You know how it goes: You’re feeling physically great and then, wham, you strain a muscle and you’re suddenly stiff, sore and in pain. Muscle strains can happen to anyone. They can occur in the normal course of daily activities or because of strenuous exercise. While it’s possible to strain any muscle that moves bones, the most commonly strained muscles include those in the lower back, neck, shoulder, and hamstring.
A muscle strain or “pulled muscle” occurs when your muscle is overstretched or torn during sports, heavy lifting, work tasks, or sudden acceleration or deceleration. When you tear the muscle fibers and the tendons attached to the muscle, you can damage small blood vessels. This can lead to local bleeding or bruising, and pain caused by irritation of the nerve endings in the area. Other muscle strain symptoms include swelling, redness, spasms, muscle weakness, limited range of movement and the inability to use the muscle at all.
Acute or chronic?
A mild or “acute” muscle strain is a muscle that may feel slightly stiff but is still flexible enough to use. Acute muscle strains, which often occur in cold weather, are a result of not warming up properly before physical activity, having poor flexibility, being in poor physical condition or experiencing overexertion and fatigue. Chronic muscle strains are caused by repetitive movements that include improper posture, holding your back or neck in an awkward position for long periods of time, or sports such as rowing, tennis, golf or baseball.
The symptoms of mild-to-moderate muscle strains usually go away within a few weeks, while more severe and chronic strains can take months to heal. Here are some simple tips—known as the RICE formula—for treating a mild-to-moderate muscle strain at home:
- REST the strained muscle for a few days, especially if movement causes an increase in pain.
- ICE is essential. Apply ice immediately after an injury to minimize swelling. Keep the ice on your muscle for 20 minutes and repeat every hour on day one. For the next several days, apply ice every four hours.
- COMPRESSION helps. Wrap the affected area in an elastic bandage until the swelling goes down. Be careful not to cut off blood circulation by wrapping the bandage too tightly.
- ELEVATE, whenever possible, by keeping the injured muscle above the level of your heart
For severe and chronic muscle strains, it’s best to seek medical attention to ensure the right diagnosis and treatment.
Prevention is the best medicine
Of course, the best thing you can do for a muscle strain is to prevent it! While not all muscles strains can be prevented, you can help reduce your chance of developing one by being proactive:
- Stretch daily, especially before exercise. This increases blood flow to your muscles and decreases your risk of injury
- Try not to sit in one position for too long. Take breaks and change position
- Maintain good posture when standing or sitting
- Lift objects carefully by keeping your back straight, bending at the knees and lifting with your legs
- Take precautions to prevent falls, such as holding handrails of stairways and avoiding slippery surfaces
- Lose excess weight
- Wear shoes that fit well
Remember, if your muscle strain is severe, it’s important to seek medical attention. At Pain Management and Injury Relief (PMIR), we specialize in diagnosing, treating and rehabilitating the underlying causes of your pain. If you’d like to learn more about the options we offer, call PMIR at (877) 724-6349 to make an appointment today.