Everything you should know about Muscle Strains

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What are muscle strains?

Muscle strains are a type of damage that occurs during or even after a physical activity that puts undue pressure on the muscle fibers or the attached tendon(s). They can occur in any muscle and/or tendon in the body.

Muscle strains and similar injuries are extremely common, especially in athletes. In the United States alone, there are over 3 million diagnosed cases of them every year.

Mayo Clinic says that most strains generally occur in the lower back but can also occur in the hamstring muscle, which is located at the back of the thigh.

However, Ortho Info states that muscle strains are also very common in the foot as well as the other locations.

What is an overview of muscle strains?

Muscle strains can be complicated and extremely painful both when the muscle is initially damaged and during the recovery.

According to Health Harvard Publishing, this is because the severity of the muscle fibers that were stretched or torn can vary depending on several factors.

The exact extent of the strain can determine how it should be diagnosed, treated, and how long it should take to recover. It also affects future prevention and rehabilitation.

What are the grades of muscle strains?

Doctors use three different grading scales to determine the extent of the injury as well as how long it will take to heal.

Grade one strains are mild and are usually slight stretching and slight damage to the fibers of the ligament.

Grade two strains are moderate and involve partial tearing to the ligament. They can also loosen the joint when it moves in certain ways.

The third grade can be extremely severe. This is when the ligaments tear, the muscles tear all the way through, and sometimes popping sounds and causes instability and joint dysfunction. Many complications can occur from this grade.

These can be accompanied by other injuries, require a long time to heal, and possibly even surgery and rehabilitation.

What are the causes of muscle strains?

Things that can cause sudden and/or unexpected muscle strain, also known as acute muscle strain, are usually injuries and/or trauma to the selected area.

These incidents can cause the muscles to become strained, pulled, and/or even torn.

Many people think that only physically strenuous activities like an intense workout or lifting something extremely heavy can cause muscle strains.

However, there have been many reports that acute muscle strains can be caused by running, jumping, throwing, lifting, and/or slipping, especially on ice.

Chronic muscle strains, muscle strains cause from prolonged and/or repetitive movement of a muscle, are usually caused by certain sports like gymnastics, tennis, rowing, and/or golf.

What are the symptoms of muscle strains?

The most common signs and symptoms of a muscle strain are, according to Ortho Info:

  • Pain in or around the muscle
  • Muscle weakness
  • Inflammation
  • Muscle spasms
  • Limited or no ability to move the muscle

These symptoms can be from both acute muscle strains and chronic muscle strains.

There can even be a pain while the muscles are at rest and that the area can be bruised or red depending on the injury.

Physio Works states that the more severe the strain, the more significant and obvious the symptoms become.

Other symptoms can include: 

  • A feeling of a ‘knot’ in the affected area
  • Stiffness
  • Soreness

When should you seek medical care?

If you have experienced a muscle injury or suspect that you have based on the symptoms, treat yourself with home remedies within the first 24 hours. If the symptoms persist, call your doctor.

However, if you experience other symptoms like the inability to walk, hearing a “pop” sound during the injury, severe swelling, pain, fever, and/or open cuts, immediately go to an emergency room or call 911, depending on the severity of the situation.

If a severe strain is left untreated, it can lead to more severe complications like fractures. These conditions and possibly the strains themselves may even require surgery.

Signs of a severe muscle strain or another condition caused by injury are: 

  • The area of and around the injury is numb
  • An inability to walk at all
  • An inability to move the arms or legs
  • Blood is coming out of the injury

If you are experiencing any of these signs and symptoms, visit your doctor right away.

What exams and tests are used to diagnose muscle strains?

According to WebMD, muscle strains are diagnosed by your doctor performing a physical exam on you.

During then, they will determine the extent of the tear, the expected healing processes, and if there will be the need for surgery.

When visiting the doctor, be sure to bring a list of any and all medications you are currently taking or recently finished.

They will ask you about your diet and the injury itself. Also, tell them about any vitamins and supplements that you are taking.

Other tests like x-rays, MRIs (Magnetic resonance imaging), and/or other lab tests are usually less used unless their patient has a history of trauma or there is the possibility or evidence of an infection in the area, a bone fracture, or other severe damage.

What are some self-home remedies for treating muscle strains?

Treating a muscle strain at home is relatively simple and cheap if treating a less severe muscle strain.

Using the RICE method is the preferred remedy. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

Rest the area, Ice the area for several minutes multiple times per day, Compress the area with an elastic bandage, and Elevate the affected area while resting it.

To relieve discomfort and pain, take NSAIDS (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). These are commonly known as Naproxen or Ibuprofen.

Read any and all labels for any medications you take as some can cause side effects.

If you have kidney or liver conditions, depending on the medication, it can negatively impact those areas. Speak to your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

What medical treatments are given by doctors?

After determining the extent of the injury, they will then determine if the injury demands an elastic bandage or a brace and/or a splint.

In the severe cases, they may also supply you with crutches, a sling, or wheelchair.

Other treatments include over-the-counter pain relievers and in more severe cases, the patient might require surgery and/or therapy.

The purpose of the surgery is to reconnect and/or repair the damaged muscle tissue.

Can an Urgent or an Immediate Care treat muscle strains?

Yes, almost all Urgent Cares, regardless of what health network they are a part of, treat muscle strains. They will usually give you an elastic bandage, brace, and/or a splint.

However, they are usually not equipped to handle severe cases that may need more emergency medical attention.

It is recommended that you should go to an emergency room if, after the injury, you are experiencing excessive bleeding or other severe conditions.

Also, some Urgent Cares and Immediate Cares may not accept the insurance you have.

If that is the case, you will have to pay any and all services that they provide with cash, check, credit, or debit card. Some provide special payment plans for this case.

What are the differences between braces, elastic bandages, and splints?

Braces are made with fabric and usually have velcro pieces that are used to secure the brace in place and limit the movement that the brace wraps around.

Elastic bandages are made from an elastic fabric that is used to wrap around the afflicted area to constrict the movement and compress the muscles.

Splints can be made from a variety of materials and are used for allowing support with no movement.

The lower the grade of strain, the less of a need there is for certain tools needed.

For example, a minor grade one sprain will usually only need an elastic bandage while a severe grade three sprains may require the use of a splint.

A doctor or other medical professional can assess to confirm which is the best for the situation.

If using at-home treatments, then you can easily find all of these in your local pharmacy or even online.

It is recommended that you confer with a medical professional before and/or after buying any of these, as using the wrong kind of product or misusing it can have negative consequences.

Are braces, elastic bandages, and/or splints expensive?

Elastic bandages are typically the cheapest compared to the other two. Whether it is online or in a pharmacy, you can usually buy one for less than 10 dollars. Although, the bigger ones usually cost slightly more.

Splints are usually about slighter higher in price as elastic bandages, but some are about the same price.

It all depends on which part of the body the splint is for. For example, thumb and wrists splints are usually much cheaper than an arm or leg splint.

Braces are usually the more expensive of the three, but like the others, it all varies on the size of the brace and what the brace is for.

Some braces can be as cheap as 10 dollars or less and as expensive as 50 dollars or more.

How to can you prevent muscle strains?

Several different measures could be taken to prevent another muscle strain or more complications.

If you work out and got your injury from such, it is recommended to stretch before and after each workout.

The stretching should be gentle and not overly strenuous.

If you got a muscle strain from an injury during your daily routine, after healing you should regularly stretch and talk to your doctor about an exercise regime.

Even a simple walk and jog can help to prevent future muscle strains.

Other preventative measures are to wear proper athletic shoes and loose-fitting clothes, balancing different types of physical activities so that one area of the body will not be overworked, drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, and don’t overwork yourself if you had not been physically active recently.

What are the Muscle Strain risk factors?

Lack of activity can leave the muscles weak and extremely susceptible to additional injuries.

Fatigue causes muscles to become weak and tired. If you are lifting heavy items or overexerting yourself while fatigued, it increases the likely hood of a muscle strain.

You can also be more at risk if you overwork yourself when you are stretching. Doing so in a slippery or uneven surface can add to the risk and so can old or improper shoes.

The elderly, the overweight, and athletes are the ones who are at risk of having a muscle strain, but everyone else is susceptible to getting one as well.

What type of specialists treats muscle strains?

If there are complications from the muscle strain, it is recommended to see a physiotherapist.

They will assist in the rehabilitation, self-managing, and general guidelines that should improve the recovery and healing rate.

Massage therapists and other alternative messages like acupuncture can be used for pain management and has been shown to help with healing and the recovery time.

What are the estimated recovery times for muscle strains?

Depending on the grade, the healing time can vary. Grade one muscle strains can heal as early as a few days.

The second grade usually heals within a week or two. The last grade can heal as late as several months to a whole year.

The recovery can vary in different circumstances like poor or no treatment and even past medical history.

For instance, if you are not treating the strain as often as you should be, or you stop the treatment altogether, it can prolong recovery time.

The worst-case scenario for improper treatment in regards to the recovery time is that the strain will worsen and possibly raise the injury to another grade.

What are the differences between muscle cramps and strains?

Muscle strains and muscle cramps differ not only in name but also in symptoms, causes, and recovery time.

The most common cramps occur in the ankles, knees, wrists, and/or thumbs.

Muscle cramps are usually caused by tightened muscles. This happens because of: 

  • Dehydration
  • Exercise or Rest
  • Reactions to medications
  • Lack of nutrition
  • Other serious medical conditions

Symptoms of muscle cramps include: 

  • Pain in or around the injury
  • Swelling
  • Bruising and/or discoloration
  • Limited movement
  • Hearing a “popping” sound from the joint during the injury

Unlike strains, cramps can last as little as a few hours to a few days. In rare cases, they can last for a week or two, but if this is the case then you should talk to your doctor.

If you get muscle cramps regularly, then you should speak to your doctor. Recurring or severe muscle cramps can be a sign or symptom of another more serious underlying cause.

How long does it take for a pulled back muscle to heal?

Depending on the area of the back where the muscles are affected, recovery time can vary from a few weeks to up to 10 weeks or more. Stretching can improve healing and it can aid in prevention as well.

These stretches have been shown to help in recovery and healing time: 

  • Knee to chest stretch
  • Double knee to chest stretch
  • Hip stretch
  • Cat/Cow stretch

Other treatments that can help in the healing time are icing the area and not putting too much pressure on the affected area.

Having someone else lightly rub it can relieve pain, but do not have them use excess pressure as this can do more harm than good.

Do muscle strains cause permanent damage?

If it was a grade one or a grade two muscle strain, there is usually no permanent damage done to the muscles, tendons, and/or ligament.

This is usually only the case as long as it was properly treated and preventative measures are taken.

If so, according to Charlotte Orthopaedic Specialists, then the overall outcome in the long-term is almost always excellent.

However, depending on the complexity and severity of a grade three muscle strain, it is possible for there to be permanent damage.

These cases are rare and are usually due to complications from an injury that caused the strain.

This video can help further explain muscle strains.

Made by Tech Insider on youtube, this 1 minute and 57-second video is a quick and simple guide to what muscle strains are, how minor or severe they can get, and what can be done to prevent them.

The YouTube video is called What Happens When You Pull A Muscle.

What should you do about work with a muscle strain?

Talk to your employer and make sure that they know about your injury. Depending on what your job is, you may have to visit the company’s doctor or nurse so they can determine if you should be put on light duty until the strain has completely healed.

In the rare case of a severe strain, you may have to take a leave of absence from work.

Depending if you need surgery and how much time rehabilitation may take, you might have to take a small leave of absence.

Are there any foods to eat or vitamins that you can take to prevent muscle strains?

Yes, there are. Eating a combination of several different foods and taking vitamin supplements can aid in keeping the body strong and resilient to future tears and rips.

Eating foods rich in these vitamins and minerals can do just that:

  • Glucosamine
  • Creatine
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin C
  • Fiber
  • Protein

You can get many of these from fruits, vegetables, and protein enriched meats like fish and poultry.

If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you can also get then from tofu, beans, peas, nuts, and even seeds. Remember to not exceed the daily amount.

If you cannot eat any of these foods because of allergies or other reasons, then you can always find most if not all of these in your local vitamin shop. You can also find special supplements specifically for athletes.

Talk to your doctor before you take supplements. Some can cause side effects, depending on each persons’ significant case.

Taking multiple supplements can increase the chance of side effects occurring.

If you are currently taking these supplements before experiencing a muscle strain, let your doctor know.

They may inform you to stop taking these supplements, especially if there are complications that can arise from the injury.