A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon. Tendons are tissues that connect muscle to bone. A strain occurs when a muscle is stretched beyond its limits during the course of everyday activities like with a sudden lift or a twist during sport or while performing a work task. Strains can happen suddenly or develop over time like in the case of repetitive strain. Back and hamstring muscle strains are common. Typically the local area is painful, swollen, red and bruised and the muscle may spasm and become weak.
Your physiotherapist can work with you to minimize the amount of damage from an injury and speed the healing process. Small and simple changes to your movements, combined with adequate muscle strength and following the Physio-4 for Strains, can prevent muscle strains in the long run and keep you moving for life.
1. Early on, relative rest is key.
In the early stages of treating a strained muscle, you should be resting the muscle to ensure the small muscle fibers that have been damaged have time to heal properly. Do not stretch in the early stages. You can use heat or ice for pain management. Avoid any painful activities such as the one that originally caused the injury. After a comprehensive assessment your physiotherapist will guide you by appropriately increasing your activities in order to avoid re-injury. Your physiotherapist may also use treatments such as electrotherapy, acupuncture and manual therapy to reduce healing time.
2. Protection is sometimes necessary.
The challenge of having an injury is that we still need to use the injured area with everyday life. This sometimes doesn’t allow our injury to heal so that’s when we use splinting or braces. Hand strains, for instance, can take a long time to heal since it is hard to rest this area of the body. Your physiotherapist will tape or brace just the strained area so that you can keep moving while your body heals. They will also advise when this can be discontinued to allow you to progress beyond the acute stage.
3. Move Early to Restore Normal Function.
Strained structures need to be strengthened while balance and dexterity are improved, so early and limited movement is extremely important. As you heal, practice skills as simple as holding chopsticks or changing
direction quickly on a soccer field. Small and simple changes to your movements, combined with adequate muscle strength, can prevent muscle strains in the long run. Your physiotherapist will educate you on how to prevent re-injury and guide you along the path back to your active lifestyle.
4. Not all strains are equal.
The local area of a muscle strain is painful, swollen, red and bruised and the muscle may be weak and painful to use. Treatments for strains are individualized, based on the mechanism of injury, the degree of strain, the specific muscle at fault and the functional goals of the individual. Your physiotherapist will help you differentiate between a mild muscle strain that can be treated conservatively, versus a severe strain such as a complete tear that may require further medical attention. And your physiotherapist will correct any biomechanical issues and create an individualized exercise plan, including stretching and strengthening at the appropriate time intervals.
Physiotherapists are the rehabilitation specialists recommended most by physicians. They are university-educated health professionals who work with patients of all ages to diagnose and treat virtually any mobility issue. Physiotherapists provide care for orthopedic issues such as sport and workplace injuries, as well as cardiorespiratory and neurological conditions. As Canada's most physically active health professionals, BC's physiotherapists know how to keep British Columbians moving for life.