By Michelle Duclos, MA, ATC, LAT, CES
A common injury in athletics is a muscle strain, more often known as a pulled muscle. Muscles strains typically occur as a result of one of two reasons: 1) the muscle has been stretched past its limit; 2) the muscle has been forced to contract too strongly. A pulled muscle can vary in terms of severity, ranging from mild to severe. To help diagnose the severity of the injury, a muscle strain can fall into one of the classifications:
- Grade I strain- the mildest strain. Only a few muscle fibers are stretched or torn. Although the injured muscle is tender and painful, it has normal strength.
- Grade II strain- moderate strain. More injured fibers, with some tearing possible and more severe muscle pain and tenderness. There is also mild swelling, noticeable loss of strength and sometimes a bruise.
- Grade III strain- severe strain. The muscle fiber is torn all the way through with this injury.
Risk of pulling a muscle is typically higher during high intensity activity, such as athletics or gym workouts, with contact activities having the highest risk. However, muscle strains can occur during any form of activity, including things as simple as walking down the stairs.
- Poor, or complete lack of warm-up before activity
- Lack of flexibility
- Poor conditioning
- Unusual body movements
Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms of a pulled muscle may vary slightly depending on severity. Symptoms may include:
- Sharp pain, especially after an activity that stretches or violently contracts the muscle
- Bruising, redness, or other discoloration
- Muscle spasm
- A “popping” sensation
- Swelling or stiffness
Symptoms unique to a more severe strain include:
- An indent or other defect in the normal outline of the muscle
- A decrease or complete loss of muscle function
Most muscle strains can be successfully treated at home. The most frequently used, and most effective treatment for minor muscle strains is the RICE method. At home you may use the following treatments:
- Rest: avoid using your muscle for a few days, especially if movement causes an increase in pain
- Ice: will help minimize pain and swelling. Apply a pack for about 20 minutes
- Compression: will help minimize swelling and provide stability to the affected muscle
- Elevation: keep the injured muscle above the level of your heart when possible
- NSAIDs: may help reduce pain and swelling
- Heat: may be used after 2-3 days post injury to facilitate circulation to the area and promote healing
When to See a Doctor
For mild to moderate strains, using a home treatment plan should be enough. However, in some cases, a pulled muscle may require extra care. Seek medical attention if you experience one or more of the following complications:
- Loss of all muscle function
- Pain does not subside after 48 hours
- Numbness in the affected area
- Significant swelling that does not go down
- Open wounds
By taking some basic precautions, you may decrease your chance of injury. Some prevention strategies include:
- Proper warmup before participating in sports
- Correct technique when lifting heavy loads either in the gym or during daily activity
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Stretching before and after a workout may help prevent stiffness
- Increase intensity slowly so as not to overexert your muscles
The amount of time it takes to recover from a muscle strain will depend on the severity of the injury. Mild strains will heal quicker than severe strains. Mild strains may take anywhere from one to four weeks with home care, whereas a severe strain involving a tear may take months to fully heal and may sometimes require physical therapy.
JOI has a dedicated team of physicians that are dedicated to your orthopedic treatment. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above and would like to see a physician regarding this, JOI offers different MD locations throughout the northeast Florida area.
JOI MD Locations Include:
- Baptist South, Baptist Beaches, Baptist Clay, Nassau, and San Marco
JOI also offers physical therapy in numerous areas in northeast Florida, if your referring MD feels physical therapy would assist you in relieving of these symptoms.
JOI Physical Therapy Locations Include:
Arlington, Beaches, Fleming Island, Mandarin, Nassau, Nocatee, North, Point Meadows, San Marco, South, Westside, and World Golf Village
If you feel you need to see one of our Orthopedic Specialists, call JOI-2000 or schedule online by clicking the link below.