June 25, 2013 by inspiritpt
So summer is upon us and in the world of physical therapy that means lots of new aches and pains for people who become more active during the long warm days. Most common are sprains and strains, but what is a sprain or a strain? How to prevent them and how to treat them?
A STRAIN happens to a muscle. It is when fibers of a muscle are stretched beyond their normal length and the fibers are injured. The signs of a muscle strain depend upon how severe the injury is to the muscle. In general, when it tears, there is a sudden onset of pain and you will know that you have had an injury. Muscle strains are graded as mild (first degree), moderate (second degree), or severe (third degree). A mild strain involves mostly stretching and limited tearing of the muscle fibers. It feels like the muscle is “knotted up.” There is some discomfort when you use the muscle, but there is usually little loss of strength. A person with a mild strain can often continue activity, but may have some limitation. The signs of a moderate strain are somewhere in between mild and severe. The person often feels a “pull.” There may be some pain, weakness, swelling, bruising, tenderness, and inability to continue the activity. A severe strain (or grade III strain) is a complete rupture of the muscle, which is usually accompanied by a “snap.” The injured person will not be able to continue activity or use the muscle at all.
How do I treat a muscle strain?
Immediate treatment is to stop using the muscle and apply ice to the affected area. It is recommend that you initially ice your injured muscle for 20-30 minutes 4 times a day for the first 48-72 hours. As your muscle heals, you can ice it less. For pain and swelling, you can use over the counter medications such as acetominophen (Tylenol) or anti-inflammatory medicines (Naprosyn, Ibuprofen, Aleve, Motrin, etc.). Any questions about medications should be directed to your doctor. In a severe strain a medical professional should be consulted to determine whether surgery, casting, splinting or other treatment is necessary,
In a mild to moderate strain, resting the injured muscle for the first 2-3 days will speed up the recovery. After a few days you should slowly start to use the muscle again to prevent stiffness, loss of muscle, and weakness. Once you can stretch and move without any pain, you can begin some light stretching and muscle movement. When you feel ready, you can gradually resume activities in moderation, but you should start slowly. Sometimes it is useful to seek help from a physical therapist when recovering from a muscle strain, especially more severe strains. You will know when you can return to full activity when you can move fully, when your strength is equal to the same muscle on your other side and when you can be active with little to no pain. It is a good idea to warm up the muscle before you stretch and before you exercise, both during and after you have recovered from the injury.
How long does it take to recover?
Recovery depends on many factors, such as the muscle involved and the severity of the injury. Milder strains will recover quicker than severe ones. Typically, it takes about two weeks to return to normal activity after a mild strain, and can take up to two months or longer to recover after a severe strain.
How can I prevent a muscle strain?
Scientific studies have shown that a heated muscle is less likely to be strained. This can be done by warming up before exercise. Start your workout with some light walking or jogging. Flexibility is also important in preventing injury and re-injury of an already strained muscle. You can increase flexibility with stretching. There are no scientific studies that show that stretching prevents injury to muscles. However, most sports specialists believe that stretching is of benefit. Stretching can be done before or after exercise, but it is best done once you are warmed up. In general, know your body and its limits. If you are just beginning to exercise, start gradually. If you have been exercising for a while, be smart and remember to warm up and stretch before exercise. It is worth the time to keep your muscles from being injured.