A muscle strain is a very common injury that occurs in the muscles or the tendons – the filamentous tissues that link muscles to bones. People of all age groups can develop muscle strains, owing to factors such as excessive use, applying too much pressure resulting in fatigue or twisting the body, limbs in random directions thereby hurting the tissues. Although strains can arise in any part of the body, they happen most frequently in the neck, shoulders, low back, calf muscles of lower legs and hamstring muscles at the back of the thighs.
In mild instances of muscle strain, simple home remedies of RICE – rest, ice, compression and elevation are effective in alleviating pain and discomfort in the affected tissues. However, severe cases of muscle strain trigger intense tearing and damage to tissues, which require surgery to repair the structures and restore their flexible movement. Furthermore, a muscle sprain is often mistaken for a muscle strain in many situations, but a sprain occurs when the bands of tissues adjoining two bones i.e., ligaments encounter a wound or injury and become inflamed.
Causes Of Muscle Strain:
A muscle strain that occurs suddenly is known as an acute muscle strain and is triggered by moving the arms, legs, hips or back in an abnormal or uncomfortable way, like when lifting a very heavy object, jumping from a considerable height or stumbling on the edge of an uneven surface, staircase or slope.
Muscle strains that arise frequently and last for a longer period, termed chronic muscle strains, develop due to recurring injuries from applying excessive pressure on a muscle by flexing it repeatedly in the same manner. These injuries happen from playing sports, certain types of gym workouts or not warming up properly before intense training sessions.
Certain attributes increase the likelihood of developing a muscle strain, such as:
- Running or sprinting suddenly after a long stationary phase
- Throwing objects with force without having flexed the arms for a while
- Winter, monsoon season or being in hill stations, where the cold weather makes the muscles stiff
- Having a slouch while sitting, standing or a poor posture
- Remaining sedentary at a desk at work and hurting the neck
- Engaging in sports such as baseball, tennis, badminton, golf, basketball, which can injure wrist, elbow muscles as well as the legs, feet and ankles – which prompts Achilles tendinitis
The typical indications of a muscle strain depend upon the nature of the injury and the severity of muscle tearing and consist of:
- Soreness and pain at the site of injury
- Muscle spasms
- Inflammation of the tendons
- Swelling and redness
- Restricted range of motion of affected tissues, with stiffness and muscle cramps
The physician conducts a thorough physical exam and asks the patient to move their neck, shoulders, arms, legs, as well as twist their hips and bend the spine forwards and backwards, to gauge if there is any uneasiness in motion. The doctor taps the region of the muscle strain and feels the tissues, to determine if there is any swelling, rupture, tenderness and assess the intensity of pain.
If a serious injury induces extreme discomfort and a severe muscle strain, then the healthcare provider carries out an ultrasound scan, to identify the areas and types of soft tissue injuries.
In case of minor injuries and muscle strains that induce slight pain, the doctor advises the patient to follow the R.I.C.E treatment approach at home, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. While the patient must avoid playing sports, workouts or other physical activities which triggered the muscle strain and take ample rest, staying active daily is still crucial, by engaging in a relaxed evening stroll or morning walk. Applying ice on the inflamed muscles, besides compressing the area with a tight bandage helps to ease pain and discomfort while moving the body. Raising the injured muscle at an elevation above the heart in the night enables the force of gravity to lessen swelling.
The medical expert also prescribes some analgesics to relieve body pain and the range of motion of afflicted muscles can be improved with physical therapy exercises. Nevertheless, if the muscle strain is very grave and leads to a torn tendon, then surgery is necessary to repair the damaged tissue structures and restore the normal activity of muscles.