When a muscle strain (can be referred to as a ‘pull’ or ‘tear’) occurs, it is similar to a ligament sprain. The muscle fibres are unable to cope with the demand from a movement or load placed on them which leads to tearing of the fibres (Physiopedia, 2019). It can occur in anyone, although athletes are more at risk due to explosive movements.
If there is a sudden increase in duration, intensity, frequency of an activity, the person is more at risk (Physiopedia, 2019).
The severity of the strain can be graded (from Physiopedia, 2019):
- Mild – only a few fibres are torn, there is no loss of strength and the person still has full range of movement. Pain can be delayed until the next day
- Moderate – nearly half of the muscle fibres are torn. There is acute pain, swelling and reduced muscle strength, and sometimes bruising
- Severe – complete rupture of the muscle. The tendon from the muscle or muscle belly has completely ruptured. There is severe pain, swelling, complete loss of function
What requires urgent medical attention?
- Significant bruising
- Loss of strength
- Loss of function
- Redness, significant tightness, swelling and shortness of breath
- Numbness or tingling
What can I do?
- See a Physiotherapist – we can do an assessment, give you advice and a rehabilitation programme that lets you achieve your goals, whether it be sport or just your day to day function
- If you have any of the more serious symptoms listed above – go to hospital for an assessment
- If you have significant pain which is restricting your mobility – go to hospital for an assessment, they may provide you with crutches to help your mobility for a few days
- Ice (wrapped in a layer and applied to the area for 10-15 minutes a few times daily), along with compression bandage
- Elevation (not with compression) if it is swollen – elevate the affected limb on pillows above heart height
- Mobilise the area as tolerated so it doesn’t get tight and restricted
- Reduce aggravating exercise and do activity which isn’t painful
- Prevention – stretching and strengthening programmes can help reduce injury risk (Mayo Clinic, 2019). Physiotherapists can give you advice for this
What would Physiotherapy do?
- Assess the area to check what are the restrictions in range, strength and function
- Advice for swelling and bruising management
- Gait (walking) re-education if required
- Rehabilitation for stretching, strengthening and preventing future injuries
- Return to sport rehabilitation if required
- Deep tissue massage (once the acute symptoms have settled) for the tightness
Mayo Clinic. 2019. Muscle Strains. [online]. [Accessed 7th July 2019]. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org
Physiopedia. 2019. Muscle Strain. [online]. [Accessed 7th July 2019]. Available from: http://www.physio-pedia.com