The Do's and Dont's of Muscle Strain Treatment
Before talking about muscle strain treatment it’s important to clarify and distinguish a few terms. First of all, we all “strain” our muscles whenever we lift something heavy or do any work at all that may require a grunt or a squinted face. This is not necessarily a problem, depending on how much weight is being lifted and the methods one is using for lifting. Straining muscle also takes place when one lifts weights for strength training, such as the case with a calf muscle strain. This can also be healthy as long as done properly and moderately.
The term “muscle strain” however, as used in sports and sports medicine, is a reference to an actual muscle injury as the result of some strenuous activity. Sometimes a muscle strain is also referred to as a muscle pull. If the damage is more severe it can even result in a muscle tear. A muscle tear can be quite painful as it involves damage to the blood vessels and irritated nerve endings. Bruising commonly results as there is bleeding from the broken blood vessels. A muscle strain then, can actually refer to any of these conditions from a milder strain to a more serious tear. A muscle sprain on the other hand is an injury not to the muscle itself but to the ligaments. The purpose of this article is to discuss muscle strain treatment, not muscle sprain treatment.
Treating a Muscle Strain
What can be done for a muscle strain? Does one need to see a doctor about it? Seeing a medical professional for a muscle strain is usually not needed as there’s not much a doctor can do for a muscle strain other than prescribe home treatment. If the strain is especially painful, doesn’t seem to be improving or there are doubts as to the actual nature or extent of the injury, then a visit to a medical professional may be in order.
Treating a muscle strain all begins with ice, never heat. Apply an ice pack, or ice packs as needed to the strained muscle in a stretched and preferably elevated position. If an ice pack is not readily available a bag of frozen vegetables (peas or corn especially) also works quite well (you may not want to eat them afterwards if they thaw out and stay out of the freezer for long). Be sure to always have some material between the skin and the ice pack as having an ice pack on bare skin for a prolonged period of time can be rather unpleasant and cause a burning sensation. Clothing can sometimes be suitable as a barrier. Otherwise a towel, preferably a thinner towel such as a dish towel works well. If the cold is still too much for the skin then adding a second or even third towel will help. As along as, given some time, the cold makes it through to the muscle the purpose will be served.
Elevation and Compression
What about heat? Again it’s vital to always begin muscle strain treatment with ice. Heat is always more appealing as heat tends to be soothing and comforting but during the early stages of a muscle strain heat will increase pain and swelling. Heat may be applied to sooth a muscle strain but only later on, at least 24 hours later once the threat of swelling as faded. Again using some kind of barrier between the heat source and the bare skin is recommended.
Other tools of muscle strain treatment will involve anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen. This will help reduce swelling and pain. Also important is to protect the injured muscle by avoiding any strenuous activity in that muscle until the pain and evidence of the injury are gone. In the meantime, even mildly strenuous activity can make the injury worse or reinjure it in which case the recovery time will be extended much longer.
In summary, the common way that sports therapists remember and teach muscle strain
treatment involves a simple acronym: RICE. R for rest, I for ice, C for compression and E for elevation. Just remember this, be patient and avoid the early application of heat and your upset muscle will thank you and have a happy recovery.