A muscle strain is a twist or a tear of a muscle or tendon. Tendons are tissues that connect your bones to your muscles. Think of a tendon as a strong elastic band between the end of a muscle and the bone. Muscle strains are associated with athletes or “weekend” athletes and are found in areas such as the upper and lower back, upper thigh, abdomen (core section), and arms at shoulder or elbow.
Strains often occur by overtraining, lifting too heavy, over-stretching, or over-tightening of a muscle. A lack of rest, age, working muscles far too hard, and previous injury can put you at a higher risk of a muscle strain. Many people also read how to rest and recover the legs after a hard workout. There are three levels of muscle strain: mild, moderate, and severe. Treatment may depend on which of the three types you have.
Signs of a strained muscle include swelling and bruising, pain when moving the area, and some loss of strength. To determine the severity of the injury, you may need a CT (computed tomography) scan, ultrasound, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan, or an x-ray.
Treating muscle strains
The most common treatment for muscle strains is RICE, which means Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. When you apply the RICE method, you will reduce the risk of swelling and bruising, which will help to stop the internal bleeding of the damaged area and decrease pain.
Rest -Rest your muscle to allow your injury to heal. I would rest for at least 3 to 7 days immediately after the injury occurs. For a severe muscle strain, rest should be for 10 to 14 days. When the pain decreases, begin normal, slow movements. If your muscle strain is in your legs or lower body, you may need to use crutches to walk.
Ice – Put a towel around an ice pack (or bag of frozen vegetables) and hold on to the injured area. Do not put the ice pack directly on your skin.
Compression – Wrap an elastic bandage around the area to decrease swelling. It should be tight enough for you to feel support, but not so tight as to affect circulation.
Elevation – Keep the injured muscle raised above your heart if possible. For example, if you have a strain of your lower leg muscle, lie down, and prop your leg up on pillows.
Tips to prevent muscle strains
Warm-up before you exercise. Ten minutes of low to moderate effort on a bike or cross-trainer or walking on a treadmill with a slight incline will prepare your muscles for exercise.
Cool down after your workout. Try 10 minutes on any piece of cardiovascular equipment, like the stationary or recumbent bike. Do this at a slow pace as you are cooling down now.
Rest. Rest is vital to give your muscles time to recover from injury. Anti-inflammatory pain relievers can also be used to decrease swelling and pain. Your doctor may suggest you have an injection into the muscle, physical therapy, or in severe cases, surgery. Rest and recovery combined with warming up and cooling down will help prevent another muscle strain.