A muscle strain is the stretching or tearing of muscle fibers. Most muscle strains happen for one of two reasons: either the muscle has been stretched beyond its limits or it has been forced to contract too strongly. In mild cases, only a few muscle fibers are stretched or torn, and the muscle remains intact and strong. In severe cases, however, the strained muscle may be torn and unable to function properly.
A muscle strain is an injury to a muscle or a tendon — the fibrous tissue that connects muscles to bones. Minor injuries may only overstretch a muscle or tendon, while more severe injuries may involve partial or complete tears in these tissues. Sometimes called pulled muscles, strains commonly occur in the lower back and in the muscles at the back of the thigh (hamstrings).
The difference between a strain and a sprain is that a strain involves an injury to a muscle or to the band of tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone, while a sprain injures the bands of tissue that connect two bones together.
Types of Muscle strain
• Grade I strain. In this mild strain, only a few muscle fibers are stretched or torn. Although the injured muscle is tender and painful, it has normal strength.
• Grade II strain. This is a moderate strain, with a greater number of injured fibers and more severe muscle pain and tenderness. There is also mild swelling, noticeable loss of strength and sometimes a bruise.
• Grade III strain. This strain tears the muscle all the way through, sometimes causing a “pop” sensation as the muscle rips into two separate pieces or shears away from its tendon. Grade III strains are serious injuries that cause complete loss of muscle function, as well as considerable pain, swelling, tenderness and discoloration.
Symptoms for muscle strain
Signs and symptoms will vary, depending on the severity of the injury, and may include:
• Pain or tenderness
• Redness or bruising
• Limited motion
• Muscle spasms
• Muscle weaknes
Symptoms of muscle strain include:
• Swelling, bruising, or redness due to the injury
• Pain at rest
• Pain when the specific muscle or the joint in relation to that muscle is used
• Weakness of the muscle or tendons
• Inability to use the muscle at all
Causes of Muscle Strain
Acute strains can be caused by one event, such as using poor body mechanics to lift something heavy. Chronic muscle strains can result from repetitive injuries when you stress a muscle by doing the same motion over and over.
During the physical exam, your doctor will check for swelling and points of tenderness. The location and intensity of your pain can help determine the extent and nature of the damage.
In more severe injuries, where the muscle or tendon has been completely ruptured, your doctor may be able to see or feel a defect in the area of injury. Ultrasound often can help distinguish among several different types of soft tissue injuries.
For immediate self-care of a muscle strain, try the R.I.C.E. approach — rest, ice, compression, elevation:
• Rest. Avoid activities that cause pain, swelling or discomfort. But don’t avoid all physical activity.
• Ice. Even if you’re seeking medical help, ice the area immediately. Use an ice pack or slush bath of ice and water for 15 to 20 minutes each time and repeat every two to three hours while you’re awake for the first few days after the injury.
• Compression. To help stop swelling, compress the area with an elastic bandage until the swelling stops. Don’t wrap it too tightly or you may hinder circulation. Begin wrapping at the end farthest from your heart. Loosen the wrap if the pain increases, the area becomes numb or swelling is occurring below the wrapped area.
• Elevation. Elevate the injured area above the level of your heart, especially at night, which allows gravity to help reduce swelling.
• Compression can be gently applied with an Ace or other elastic bandage, which can both provide support and decrease swelling. Do not wrap tightly.
• Elevate the injured area to decrease swelling. Prop up a strained leg muscle while sitting, for example.
• Activities that increase muscle pain or work the affected body part are not recommended until the pain has significantly improved.
Regular stretching and strengthening exercises for your sport, fitness or work activity, as part of an overall physical conditioning program, can help to minimize your risk of muscle strains. Try to be in shape to play your sport; don’t play your sport to get in shape. If you have a physically demanding occupation, regular conditioning can help prevent injuries