What is a muscle strain?
A muscle strain is the stretching or tearing of muscle fibers. Most muscle strains happen for one of two reasons: either the muscle has been stretched beyond its limits or it has been forced to contract too strongly. In mild cases, only a few muscle fibers are stretched or torn, and the muscle remains intact and strong. In severe cases, however, the strained muscle may be torn and unable to function properly.
Although the risk of muscle strain is especially high during sports activities, you also can strain a muscle by lifting a heavy carton or by simply stepping off a curb.
Almost all types of athletic activity carry some risk of muscle strains, but these injuries tend to happen most often in contact sports, such as football, and in sports that require quick starts, such as basketball and tennis.
TYPES OF MUSCLE STRAIN
To help simplify diagnosis and treatment, muscle strains are classified into three grades, depending on the severity of muscle fiber damage:
Grade I strain
In this mild 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
This is a moderate strain, with a greater number of injured fibers and more severe muscle pain and tenderness. There is also mild swelling, noticeable loss of strength and sometimes a bruise.
Grade III strain
This strain tears the muscle all the way through, sometimes causing a “pop” sensation as the muscle rips into two separate pieces or shears away from its tendon. Grade III strains are serious injuries that cause complete loss of muscle function, as well as considerable pain, swelling, tenderness and discoloration. Because Grade III strains usually cause a sharp break in the normal outline of the muscle, there may be an obvious “dent” or “gap” under the skin where the ripped pieces of muscle have come apart.
What are the Symptoms of Muscle Strain?
Muscle pain and tenderness are common symptoms of a strained muscle, especially after an activity that stretches or violently contracts the muscle. Pain usually increases when you move the muscle but is relieved by rest.
Muscle swelling, discoloration or both can also be present. Some can experience muscle cramp or spasm and a decrease in muscle strength or (in Grade III strains) a complete loss of muscle function. You may also hear a pop in the muscle at the time of injury and a gap, dent or other defect in the normal outline of the muscle (in Grade III strain)
How You Can Prevent a Muscle Strain
You can easily prevent straining your muscle by doing the following :
- Warm up before participating in sports and activities.
- Follow an exercise program aimed at stretching and strengthening your muscles.
- Increase the intensity of your training program gradually. Never push yourself too hard, too soon.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Obesity can stress muscles, especially in your legs and back.
- Practice good posture when you sit and stand.
- Use the correct technique when you lift heavy loads.
Treatment of muscle strain
If you have a Grade I or Grade II strain, your doctor will ask you to follow the RICE rule which involves
- Rest the injured muscle (and take a temporary break from sports activities).
- Ice the injured area to reduce swelling.
- Compress the muscle with an elastic bandage.
- Elevate the injured area.
To help relieve muscle pain and swelling, it may be advised that you take acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and others). For someone with a painful back strain that does not improve with NSAIDs or acetaminophen (Tylenol), prescription pain medications or muscle relaxants may be appropriate.
If you have a severe Grade II or Grade III strain, you may be referred to an orthopedic specialist. Depending on the severity and location of your muscle strain, the orthopedic specialist may immobilize the injured muscle in a cast for several weeks or repair it surgically. Mild strains may heal quickly on their own, but more severe strains may require a rehabilitation program