Muscle strain is one of the most common type of injuries. The term "strain" may not sound too serious, but it's something that you should pay attention to. Here's what you need to know about muscle strain and how you can prevent it.
What is muscle strain?
A muscle strain--otherwise known as muscle pullis actually an injury to a muscle or its connecting tendons where muscle fibres tear because of overstretching or overexertion. Muscle strains can occur not only while playing sports, but also during everyday activities (e.g. lifting heavy objects). Overuse, fatigue, or even improper use of muscles can cause a strain in the lower back, shoulder, neck, and hamstrings.
This tearing of muscle fibres can also cause damage to small blood vessels, resulting in bruising and pain due to irritation of nerve endings in the affected region. Muscle strains could also reduce movement in the muscle group. Muscles usually recover from mild to moderate strains in a few weeks, while serious cases could take several months to heal, especially those that require surgery.
The corresponding injury to a ligament or joint is a sprain.
Symptoms of muscle strain
So how do you find out if you have muscle strain? The usual indications include the following:
- Bruising, swelling, and discoloration around the strained muscle.
- Pain even when the muscle isn't moving.
- Pain when the injured muscle or joint connected to the muscle is moved.
- Stiffness in the affected area.
- The muscle may pop at the time of the injury.
- Weakness of the injured muscle or its related tendons.
- For severe strains, there is typically a dent or some kind of defect in the outline of the injured muscle.
Mild to moderate strains usually feel stiff and but are still flexible enough to move and use. Severe strains, on the other hand, cause sharp pain and limit muscle movement significantly.
Grades of muscle strain
There are three grades or classifications of muscle strain, which depend on the severity of the injury.
This grade refers to mild strains where the muscle or tendon is overstretched and only a few small tears to muscle fibres may occur. The result is a mild ache, some tenderness, and possibly a bit of swelling. However, the muscle mostly retains its strength.
This classification is for moderate strains. Here, more muscle fibres are torn, resulting in more intense pain, discomfort, and mild swelling. The area around the affected tendon or muscle also feels tender. Furthermore, there is a discernible strength loss in the muscle; some bruising may follow if blood vessels in the injured muscle or tendon are damaged.
This grade refers to the most severe of muscle strains. Most of the muscle fibres are torn, sometimes resulting in a pop at the time of the injury (see above). This occurs because the muscle literally tears into two separate parts or is ripped from its connecting tendon. This severe injury causes significant pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness, and discoloration. Movement isn't only limited but difficult as well.
Reducing the risk of muscle injury
Here are a few suggestions on how you can prevent muscle strain:
- If you plan to get fit and start exercising, you should never increase your regimen drastically. See to it that you start slowly, then increase the intensity of your workouts gradually.
- Perform warm-up exercises for about 20 minutes before engaging in any demanding physical activity. Focus on limbering up your lower back, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, and neck to prevent muscle strain.
- Try to maintain muscle strength and flexibility by exercising regularly. This will help you prevent muscle injuries. Tightness in your muscles can cause strain, which is why it's necessary to loosen up beforehand.
- When you become very tired or once your muscles start feeling sore, stop and rest immediately. As mentioned earlier, muscle strain can be caused by overexertion or fatigue.
- Protect parts of your body that have previously suffered muscle strain with an elastic bandage or athletic tape even if they're in good condition because they are susceptible to re-injury.
- Diet can actually help you avoid muscle strains. If you a carbohydrate-rich diet 48 hours before physical activity, like a game, you get enough fuel needed for your muscles. But if you don't get enough carbohydrates, your muscles may not have enough fuel and get fatigued, which could then leave you at risk for an injury. This is one of the reasons why sports drinks have carbohydrates.