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How to Effectively Treat a Muscle Strain

Muscle strains are a serious pathology, but full recovery is definitely possible if you follow the right treatment. 

How to Effectively Treat a Muscle Strain

Last update: 13 January, 2021

Treating a muscle strain is a process that requires the patient to follow the treatment with precision. That is, they must do exactly what the specialist says since this is the most serious muscle injury one can get. Today, we’ll delve into this pathology and the most effective ways to treat it.

In short, a muscle strain occurs when there’s a tear in the muscle fibers. It’s more severe than microtears since it’s large fiber bundles that suffer the tearing, instead of single fibers.

When does a muscle strain occur?

A tear can occur for example in cases where there’s a sudden and very intense contraction. It’s also possible that it occurs when the damage is caused by repeated and prolonged contractions over time.

In the latter case, not resting properly in order to recover or not treating minor pathologies can also worsen the condition. As there’s no continuity between the fibers, in order to achieve a full recovery it’s not only necessary to make them reconnect, but also allow time for the binding to settle and strengthen.

Symptoms of a muscle strain

The symptoms are similar to those of other pathologies but more intense. The most common are:

  • Sharp pain located in the area where the tear has taken place.
  • Swelling due to inflammation.
  • Hematoma generated by the rupture of muscle sheaths that causes blood to leak out.
  • Functional disability: the muscle isn’t able to contract since the fibers are broken, therefore there’s reduced mobility.

When the strain happens, athletes describe it as if a stone had been thrown at them. This is called “stone syndrome”.

A muscle strain in a male athlete.

If you experience these symptoms, it’s important that you go to a health center to carry out several tests. This way, the specialist will be able to rule out other possible pathologies. This is important since the clinical signs of various muscle injuries are similar, as explained in a study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences. 

Keys to treating muscle strains

In the acute phase, when the injury has just occurred, the first step would be to control the bleeding and inflammation by applying ice, compressing the area, raising the injured muscle, and resting. 

By following these steps, you’ll prevent inflammation from getting out of control. It’ll also limit the amount of blood that transfers to the exterior of the muscle, thus speeding up recovery.

After the first 24-48 hours, it’s convenient to perform a draining massage to help the body eliminate the fluids that have been extravasated. Carrying out passive mobilizations can help as well, which consists of another person moving the affected muscle. This is to maintain a certain degree of mobility without requiring muscle contraction.

In addition, there are other therapeutic options such as applying ice and then heat and executing gentle moves to cause voluntary contractions.

The final phase of treating a muscle strain

After some time, you can move on to gentle stretching. This helps the fibers with proper orientation, which prevents recurrence after rehabilitation. Over time, it’ll be possible to increase the intensity of active movements.

During the final phase of treatment, you’ll be able to perform intense exercises and stretching, as well as eccentric exercises, and finally receive more intense physiotherapy treatment.

McKenzie physiotherapy exercises.

The duration of these phases will vary depending on the extent of the injury. There are three degrees of strain, and each muscle is different. Therefore, recovery may last from just over a week to a couple of months. It should be the specialist who evaluates each individual situation and when to move to the next recovery phase.

Full recovery is possible

Despite being one of the most important muscle injuries, the prognosis is usually good. In fact, it’s possible to enjoy a full recovery if the patient follows the rehabilitation guidelines correctly. In fact, recurring injuries are likely only in the more serious cases, in which a large muscle suffers a significant tear.

Even if fibrous tissue or poor fiber orientation appears due to poor rehabilitation, there’s a solution. There are physiotherapeutic methods that tackle these pathologies and help correct them, as explained in a research study published by the Chilean Journal of Orthopedics and Traumatology. 

Therefore, if you suffer a muscle strain, don’t despair, and have patience. Treating it is possible and you’ll most likely recover from it completely.

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  • A. Vaisman, M. Scheu, I. Araya et al. ¿Podemos mejorar la cicatrización de un desgarro muscular masivo? Revista Chilena de Ortopedia y Traumatología. Vol. 59(01): 010-015. 2018
  • M. Cardero. Lesiones musculares en el mundo del deporte. E-Balonmano. Vol. 4, Núm. 1. 2008.
  • P. Soto y L. Salazar. Clasificación ecográfica de los desgarros musculares. Anales de Radiología México. Vol. 7(2):121-128. 2008.