Muscle strains are one of the most common injuries in athletes. It is estimated that 10 to 55% of all injuries in sports are in the muscle, and 90% of those injuries are strains. Though most muscle strains heal well, there is a high rate of re-injury (12-31%).
A muscle strain is literally a tearing of muscle fibers; unlike sprains, which are tears of ligaments. Strains occur when too much force is applied to a resisting muscle. Excessive tensile force causes over-stressing of the muscle fibers, eventually causing them to rupture.
Typically muscle strains occur with:
Quick direction switches – most common during sports that involve running and require fast turns and twists (i.e. soccer, football, baseball, etc.);
Lifting something too heavy – when you’re not strong enough or if you get tired during an exercise.
One of the most important parts of a muscle strain diagnosis is a recognizable incident. If you strained a muscle, you probably remember it! Some call it the “oh %*&#” moment when you feel or hear some kind of pop, rip, tear, pull or stretch. It is usually immediately followed with pain at the muscle. However, some strains may not involve a sound or feeling, and you might not notice pain until after your exercise session has calmed down.
It is important to note that a muscle strain is different from severe exercise soreness aka Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). It is sometimes really hard to tell between the two, but strains usually have that “oh %*&#” moment, and even if they don’t, you usually feel pain quickly. However, severe exercise soreness may take one to two days to develop. Additionally, strains are more specific and tender to touch at a particular spot , while severe exercise soreness feels like it is in the entire muscle.
Below are some common signs experienced with muscle strains:
• Location – It is important to note that a muscle strain occurs in the muscle and not in the joint. For example, if you feel pain in the knee, it is probably not a strain.
• Pain – Strains may cause you to feel an irritating and dull pain, which increases when you touch the muscle, and even more when you actually contract the muscle.
• Weakness – The muscle in question is likely weak; not because the muscles are damaged, but because pain and inflammation can actually inhibit muscle activation.
• Swelling, redness, or bruising – The strained muscle may become inflamed, red and/or bruised.
Muscle strains are classified into grades of severity. Below is a four grade system, but note there are different grading systems:
• Grade I – Just a few muscle fibers are torn.
• Grade II – Tearing of less than half the fibers of a muscle.
• Grade III – Tearing of more than half the fibers of a muscle.
• Grade IV – Complete tearing of a muscle.
Healing times differ between grades of muscle strains. Below is the general recovery model for strains depending on the severity:
1. Days 1 – 3: P.R.I.C.E. (Protect, Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate)
2. Days 3 – 7: Early Mobilization
3. Days 8 – 21: Active Recovery
4. Day 21 +: Gradual Return to Athletics
Note that a muscle injury heals differently from a bone injury. Bone heals by regeneration, while muscle heals by repair. When a bone is done healing, the regenerated bone is made of the same stuff. However, when muscle heals, scar tissue typically develops.
Using manual Physical Therapy modalities, Active Release Techniques® and Deep Tissue Laser Therapy, Dr. Boaz is able to improve the recovery time of muscle strains ensuring that functional strength is restored to the injured area.
If you believe you have experienced a muscle strain and are experiencing pain, please contact Aspire Health & Wellness at (858) 663-5114 or the office of Integrative Health Solution at (858) 254-5433 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Boaz.