Muscle strains can be the result of overuse, sudden trauma, or even an indication for illness. Learn more about muscle strain causes, symptoms, risk factors, as well as muscle strain treatment options. Gain a deeper understanding of how to prevent, recognize, and effectively address these common injuries for optimal recovery and muscle health.
Muscle strains refer to tissue damage in the muscles or tendons of the body, usually because of a sudden or overuse injury. A muscle or tendon may be damaged if it’s been stretched or loaded beyond its capabilities, often to a significant degree. Fatigued muscles may also be more likely to tear if loaded without proper rest or recovery.
Muscles are attached to tendons, and tendons attach to bones. Most significant muscle strains occur in the tendon – in severe cases, a tendon may tear itself from the bone, or from the muscle belly. In either case, such muscle strains are accompanied by swelling and bruising. In less severe cases, there might be no swelling or bruising, but the muscle or tendon may be damaged, nonetheless.
Imaging techniques, especially MRIs, can help doctors and specialists identify the extent of the damage to the soft tissues – however, if the strain was minor, then the pain tends to resolve itself in a matter of a few days or weeks.
Exploring Muscle Strain Treatments
Most muscle strains are treated with rest and recuperation. A doctor may recommend that you cool the strain to help reduce swelling, but don’t keep it on ice for too long. Some inflammation and warmth are needed for recovery, and to promote blood flow to the area.
If the strain is severe, you may want to immobilize the affected joint and muscle for a while – such as placing an arm in a sling if a shoulder muscle was injured. Once the pain becomes manageable, minimal physical activity – such as passive exercise via a physical therapist – can help promote healing.
Severe strains require a more direct approach. If the muscle or tendon were torn, then surgical reattachment may be necessary. Minor tears heal themselves, but larger tears require sutures and special anchors to reattach the muscle and tendon to the bone. Even with surgery, physical rehabilitation is needed to ensure that the muscle heals properly, and full function (or as close to full function as possible) is restored.
Aside from surgery, pain management is crucial in dealing with a muscle strain. They can be painful for some time, and full recovery for severe strains can take three months or more.
Different Types of Muscle Strains
Muscle strains are graded by severity between mild, moderate, and severe. A physical exam and, if needed, imaging techniques can be used to determine the severity of the strain. Severe strains may require surgery to reattach the muscle and/or tendon.
Mild and moderate strains may temporarily limit your mobility but can be treated more conservatively, through rest, physical therapy, and localized or general pain management.
Tips for Avoiding Muscle Strains
A muscle strain is generally caused when a muscle and tendon is pushed so far past its limits that it gives way, and tears to some degree. Sudden injuries, such as falls or car accidents, can be tough to prepare for – the forces involved are often too severe for preventative measures to help.
However, proper nutrition, regular exercise, some strength training, and hydration can help reduce overuse injuries, or the severity of a muscle tear.
Muscle strains are some of the most common musculoskeletal injuries, so we get a lot of questions from clients regarding pain management options and muscle strain treatment concerns. Some of these questions include:
Can muscle strains become a recurring issue? Yes, a muscle strain can give way to another strain, depending on how well the injury healed, as well as the client’s adaptations after recovery. However, recurring injuries can be prevented with the same measures as other muscle strains – proper hydration, nutrition, reducing load or work volume when pains set in, warming up, and strengthening the musculature through regular training can help reduce the risk of a recurring strain.
Are there complications for muscle strains? The more severe a strain, the higher the likelihood of large scar tissue formations, and equally large changes in the muscle’s ability to contract normally, which is one of the reasons re-injuries may be likely. Potential other complications include infections, bleeding, blood clots, rhabdomyolysis, muscle herniation, chronic pain/inflammation or abnormal bone growth. It’s important to follow up with your doctors after treating a serious strain.
How long does it take to recover from a muscle strain? It depends on the severity of the strain, as well as individual factors. A minor overstretched muscle or tendon may stop hurting in a matter of a few weeks. A serious strain with reattachment of the tendon or muscle belly may require at least three months of recovery. It’s important to ask your doctor for a relevant prognosis after they evaluate your injury.
Are certain activities more prone to causing muscle strains? It depends on your personal level of fitness, prior medical history, and relevant risk factors. Overuse of a muscle or a repetitive action can cause a strain, as can unexpected or overwhelming resistance. This means you can strain a muscle at work, at the gym, or even getting up from the couch. Activities you have little experience with – or haven’t adapted to, physically – will usually be riskier.
Is a muscle strain the same as a sprain? Muscle strains affect the muscles and tendons. Sprains affect ligaments and joints. Differentiating between the two can be difficult as a layperson, especially in joints or body parts with an array of tendons and ligaments alike, such as the wrist. They both generally mean the same thing, though, referring to damaged tissue – often from sudden trauma, such as a fall, or overuse.
Muscle strains, especially recurring ones, or injuries that give way to chronic inflammation often call for a more specialized pain management approach It often isn’t enough to rely on over-the-counter medication, and pain can affect recovery by cutting into a client’s rest and recuperation. We at PMIR specialize in providing a variety of pain management options for clients with post-surgical or chronic pain.