What to Do When You Have a Strained Muscle
One of the most common injuries that we see at our Costa Mesa medical clinic is that of strained muscles. Muscles strains can be very inconvenient, and sometimes quite painful, but they generally heal quickly, and most do not require professional medical treatment. Knowing how to take proper care of a strained muscle helps speed up the healing process and prevents patients from reinjuring themselves or further aggravating the injury.
What Is a Strained Muscle?
A muscle strain is caused when a muscle is overstretched or torn. This usually happens because of fatigue, improper use of the muscle, or overwork. These can either be acute strains (caused by sudden and unexpected tearing or pulling) or chronic strains (caused by repetitive movement). When a muscle is strained, the patient will usually feel one or more of the following symptoms:
- Limited movement
- Sudden pain
- Lingering soreness
- Muscle spasms
The number and severity of the symptoms will depend on the seriousness of the injury. Mild or moderate strains will likely manifest with some pain and stiffness, will start to improve within a few days, and will usually be completely healed within three to six weeks. Serious strains will cause higher levels pain and severely limit the movement of the affected muscles, and these can sometimes take months to fully heal, even with medical treatment.
While any muscle in the body can be strained, overworked, or bent improperly, the most common areas that muscle strains occur are:
- Lower back
How Are Muscle Strains Treated?
Mild to moderate strains can easily be treated at home with first aid and proper care. The best way to take care of a muscle strain is to follow the R.I.C.E. method, which stands for:
- Rest – Try to use the strained muscle as little as possible for one to two days after the strain. After the second day, increase activity incrementally, being careful not to strain the muscle again.
- Ice – Applying ice right after an injury occurs will help reduce swelling. Ice should also be applied once every hour, for 15 minutes at a time, until the injury heals. Do not apply ice directly to the skin. Instead, wrap the ice in a towel or use an ice pack.
- Compression – Wrapping the affected area with an elastic bandage or medical wrap can bring down the swelling. Just be sure not to wrap it too tightly, cutting off blood flow.
- Elevate – Try to keep the injured area elevated above the level of the heart, if possible.
Other treatment methods can include taking anti-inflammatory medication like acetaminophen, applying heat, and doing warm-up exercises and mild stretches once pain levels allow.
If the pain from the injury does not go away after a week, the injured muscle has gone numb, or the strain prevents you from walking or moving your arms or legs, medical attention is required. Depending on the extent of the injury, a serious strain can take months to heal, and may require physical therapy or even surgery to repair.
If you think you have a serious muscle strain, be sure to contact your physician or visit a medical clinic. X-rays, MRIs, and physical examination may be required to fully assess the extent of the injury.
Most muscle strains completely heal with time, and can be prevented from reoccurring with proper exercise and by following physical safety guidelines. Getting regular exercise and staying in shape will help the muscles stay healthy, and can help prevent strained muscles from happening in the first place.
Have more questions about strained muscles, or any other medical issue? Give us a call at 949-548-8400.