What is Muscle Strain?
A muscle strain or a “pulled muscle” is an injury to a muscle fiber unit caused by overuse, overstretching, or excessive stress. Strains are graded along a continuum based on post-injury symptoms and loss of function, and reflect the degree of injury.
There are three types of muscle strain that are recognized:
A first-degree type of muscle tear only affects few muscle fibers. In addition, a first-degree tear manifests swelling, mild spasms and tenderness but with no observable functions being loss.
A second-degree muscle strain on the other hand has more muscle fibers that are affected than a first-degree. Similarly with the first degree strain, it also manifests swelling, muscle spasm, tenderness, and bruising but has also manifestations of having problems in weight bearing.
A third-degree muscle strain is the most severe type involving a complete tear in at least one of the muscle fiber unit and may also possibly involve muscle from muscle, muscle from tendon or tendon from bone.
Strained muscles are mostly heard from athletes being injured but same can also happen to anyone. Muscle strain can happen to a person who is lifting a heavy object just as an athlete is sprinting 100 meters.
Symptoms and Signs
In general, strained muscles have the same signs and symptoms regardless of their location and severity. This includes the following:
- Swelling, bruising or redness, in more severe types, open cuts as a result of injury.
- Pain at rest.
- Pain when moving the muscle affected or the joint near to the location of the strained muscle.
- The most severe of all is the inability to use the muscle.
Muscle Strain at Various Body Regions
Strained Back Muscles
Back pain is one of most people’s frequent complaints. Back muscle pain is frequently related to disk or joint problems and most of all stretched muscles.
The pulled muscle is mostly located in the extensor (responsible for standing and lifting objects), flexor (responsible for flexing, bending forward, lifting and arching the lower back) and the oblique muscles (responsible for proper posturing). A person who had a pulled back muscle may also have constraints in doing some activities like lifting and difficulty standing. In addition, he also has swelling, pain and weakness. Just as he may not be able to do these activities, more often than not, these activities are also the ones that caused the muscle to be strained such as lifting heavy objects.
Strained Calf Muscles
The calf muscle is one of the muscles that always get injured. The injury occurs mostly in the lower leg (gastrocnemius or soleus), most commonly in the medial gastrocnemius. The injury usually occurs just above the midpoint of the leg (between the knee and ankle).
This area of the calf becomes tender and swollen when a muscle strain occurs. Other causes from calf strain aside from functional causes, are baker’s cyst, leg cramps and blood clots. They would experience pain while sitting or at rest, pain at night and difficulty in walking.
Muscles in the neck are strained mostly because of an acute injury. Most of these injuries are indirect trauma causing the head to fling backward (hyperextension) or forward (hyperflexion), collectively known as whiplash. Motor vehicular accidents are one of the main causes of whiplash. In addition, injuries caused by rotation and compression (when the force of impact lands on the top of the head) can also result in neck strain.
Pain is the cardinal symptom of a neck strain. It is also not uncommon that some discomfort may not show initially as inflammatory changes happen slowly. Inability of doing some previous tasks may also be manifested. Sometimes neck stiffness may also occur and radiate to the lower back.
Pulled Groin Muscle
The groin muscle strain usually occurs when the adductor muscles (muscles of the inner thigh) are overstretched. This can result in small muscle tears that cause pain and swelling. These muscles pull together when they contract and help stabilize the hip joint. Groin strain is the most common cause of groin pains. A severe tear can cause a sudden, acute pain that can be accompanied by swelling and bruising. The pain increases with resistance movements and stretching of the inner thigh and hamstrings and are painful to touch.
Strained Chest Wall (Intercoastal) Muscles
Strained chest wall muscle is a result of a trauma that may occur several days prior to the occurrence of the pain. This might be a result from a direct trauma that causes tenderness. The tenderness may be noticed by pressing the area with fingers. In addition, forceful coughing and weight lifting may also cause the chest muscles to be pulled.
Sometimes the mildest injuries could not cause weakness or tears. Muscle spasms and swelling may also occur as a result of inflammation. It is important to note the cause of the discomfort or pain in the chest as this might be more than just a strained chest muscle and might be a more life-threatening condition such as heart attack.
Pulled Quadriceps (Thigh)
The quadriceps or quad muscles are the four large groups of muscles located in the thigh that stretch from the hip to the knee. These muscles are responsible for extending the lower legs, working opposite to the hamstring.
A quad muscle strain occurs when there is a tear in one or more of these muscles. Quad muscle pulls manifest pain, swelling, and weakness to the affected leg. Pulled quadriceps is also one of the most common injuries by the athletes such as in football, track and field events, basketball, rugby, tennis and cycling.
Stomach Muscle (Abdominal) Strain
Pulled stomach muscle is also called as abdominal muscle strain. This occurs when there is overstretching in one of the abdominal muscles such as the rectus abdominis, internal and external oblique. Most abdominal strains affect the rectus abdominis muscle; the muscle that runs down from the ribs to the pelvis in the middle of the abdomen.
Abdominal strain can immediately cause pain to the area of the injured muscle. Muscle spasm is also the other symptom that can also occur. Less commonly, bruising and swelling can also occur. Abdominal muscle strains are most often the result of heavy lifting or sudden twisting. However, any sudden and forceful activity, including vigorous or prolonged coughing or sneezing, can cause abdominal strain also.
Treatment of Strained Muscles
Treatment of strained muscles consists of resting and elevating the affected part, applying cold, and using a compression bandage. The treatment may be sum up to this acronym, RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).
- Rest - This prevents additional injury and promotes healing.
- Ice - Intermittent application of moist or dry cold packs for 20 to 30 minutes during the first 24 hours to 48 hours after injury producing decrease blood flow to the area, which decreases bleeding, swelling and discomfort. It should also be noted that care should be undertaken to avoid skin damage from excessive cold.
- Compression – An elastic compression bandage controls bleeding, reduces swelling, and provides support for the injured muscles.
- Elevation – This controls the swelling by decreasing the blood flow to the affected area.
In addition, after 24 to 48 hours during the injury occurred, heat may be applied intermittently (for 15 to 30 minutes, four times a day) to relieve muscle spasm, to promote blood flow, absorption and then repair. Injuries that are severe require more intervention than just the above. Some injuries may require casting and splinting.
Pain medications are also given in order to alleviate the pain.
Depending on the severity of the injury, active and passive exercises can be started in just 5 to 7 days. In some cases, those that are severe, it may take months for the strained muscles to be healed.