Sore muscles and muscle aches are a common symptom post-exercise. However, when you hear reports of muscle spasms, muscle strain, pulled muscle or a torn muscle then there has been significant muscle injury. Muscle pain – no matter how you describe it – “pulled muscle”, “muscle strain”, “muscle injury” or “torn muscle” the end result is injury to your muscle potentially resulting in muscle spasms, pain, weakness and reduced muscle performance.Muscle pain can be caused by any muscle strain, injury or tear. The most common are the high speed and load muscles such as your hamstrings, thigh (quadriceps), calf, back and biceps. Muscle tears can range from a mild strain (grade one), moderate strain (grade two) to a severe strain or complete rupture (grade three).Strains most commonly occur in the:
- lower back
- hamstring muscle, which is located in the back of the thigh, and
- calf muscle
Athletes in all contact sports are at risk of sustaining a “corky” – otherwise known medically as a muscle contusion (bruise). Contusions are second only to strains as a leading cause of sports injuries.
The majority of contusions are minor and heal really quickly, without taking the athlete away from the game. But, severe contusions can cause deep muscle damage and can lead to complications that may keep the athlete out of sports for months.
Contusions occur when there is a direct blow or repeated blows from a blunt object strike part of the body, crushing underlying muscle fibres and connective tissue without breaking the skin.
A contusion can result from falling or jamming the body against a hard surface, such as an opposition player’s knee.
Contusions cause pain and swelling as well as limited joint range of motion around the injury. The direct blow causes blood vessel damage, with the torn blood vessels leaking out bluish discolouration. The injured muscle may feel weak and stiff.
Sometimes a pool of blood collects within damaged tissue, forming a painful lump in the area of the injury (haematoma).
Diagnosing and treating a muscle strain
- alleviate pain and inflammation
- reduce the risk of further injury
- regain full use of your body
- give your body a chance to rest and heal properly
Without proper treatment, you may experience recurring injuries or pain and weakness in the muscle during everyday use. It can be especially painful during exercise and athletic activities.
Surgery is necessary to repair a muscle that’s torn as opposed to one that’s strained. Surgery is typically the last resort for muscle injuries.
The individual letters of RICE stand for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. In particular, RICE involves the following:
Rest by taking an adequate amount of time to heal and avoiding physical activity. This can help strained muscles and other injuries.
Ice your muscle by using cold packs with a barrier between them and your skin four to eight times per day for 20 minutes at a time.
Compress your muscle by applying a steady, gentle pressure on it. This prevents swelling and inflammation, which delay healing. Wrapping an elastic bandage around the affected muscle is best.
Elevate the injury above your heart to reduce swelling. Use pillows or other devices to raise an affected limb while you rest.
Anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Nurofen) or aspirin can help reduce swelling and pain.
Physiotherapy may also be needed. They will be able to massage the area to relieve pain as well as prescribe stretching and strengthening exercises in a timely manner in order to return to normal activities without re-injury.
Surgery is the typical treatment for torn or ruptured muscles. You and your doctor will discuss all surgical or nonsurgical options available to repair your muscle.
The last thing you want to do is re-injure a strained muscle. There are several ways you can prevent a muscle strain from recurring, including:
- Allowing for proper time to heal from an injury
- Stretching your muscles daily
- Cross-training for sports by weightlifting or choosing another activity to strengthen your muscles
- Warming up before exercise or intense activity
- Eating foods high in potassium, like bananas and avocados, before exercise to prevent muscle fatigue
- Properly hydrating during exercise