Pulling muscles or muscle strains are caused by stretching the muscle beyond its limit, overloading it with weight or repeated movements.

Most muscle strains are found in the calves and thighs (hamstrings and rectus-femoris muscles). These strains are also common to the neck, shoulders, and lower spine.

The severity of muscle strains

There is severity of muscle strain

  • Mild Minor swelling and discomfort. Little or no loss in strength or range-of-motion. Minimal tearing of muscles fibers. Risk of worsening with continued activity. Typically heals within a few day
  • Moderate: visible signs of swelling or bruising or defects, usually heals within a few weeks
  • Severe: complete loss of muscle function and rupture of the muscle. Rehabilitation can take months, requiring surgery

If your symptoms are moderate or severe, consult a doctor or a physical therapist to get an accurate diagnosis. They can also provide you with the appropriate treatment.

First phase of recovery

In the first two or three days following the injury, the treatment is aimed at reducing pain and swelling. The PRICE protocol is the standard management course.

  • Protection: Use a brace or sling to restrict movement and protect muscles from further injury
  • Rest: Stop any activity that has caused the injury and rest the muscles as much as you can
  • Apply ice to the muscle every two to three hours
  • Compression: Wrap an injured muscle with an elastic bandage to reduce swelling and inflammation
  • Elevation Raise the affected area as high as possible, if it is comfortable to do so. This will minimize pressure and blood loss and encourage drainage

Second Phase of Recovery

This stage aims to stop further damage, and begin to restore stability and balance.

The POLICE protocol is a more recent innovation that suggests replacing “Rest” with “Optimal Load”. Instead of resting a muscle, which may cause it become weak, it would be better to gradually introduce weight-bearing activities and controlled movements.

You can start with light stretching and low intensity exercises and then progress to massage during the first week following an injury. They should be done only if the exercises do not cause pain or interfere with the recovery process.

Third Phase of Recovery

In week 2, you will have recovered and rebuilt your muscles. This stage is designed to gradually rebuild your muscle strength in the following month or two.

While you may increase the intensity of exercises, it is important to not overdo them or risk reinjury.

Rehabilitation programs usually use a specific exercise program for your injury as well as the sports-specific movements that you want to return to.

Returning to Action

Gradually increase the intensity of your activity and workload when you return to it. Give your body plenty of time to adapt and be on the lookout for any early warning signs.

Stop and consult a health professional if you feel any discomfort or pain during your return to exercise.

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