A pulled muscle is one of those things that all of us have experienced from time to time – like the common cold or a chesty cough it is one of those ailments that is a part of every day life and that is largely mundane and not threatening. That said it is still painful and it still can be a problem if it leads to muscular imbalance and causes you to hurt yourself further. At the same time it can help to know more about so common a problem so that you can be aware of how to avoid it, how to treat it and just basically of what's going on.
Here we will look to answer all those questions and explain what a pulled muscle is and how to treat it.
What Is a Pulled Muscle?
First of all to understand treatment for pulled muscles you need to first understand how they became 'pulled' in the first place and what that really entails. Essentially a pulled muscle, which can also be called a muscle strain, is when a particular muscle is stretched too far or too fast and this causes tiny tears to occur in the muscle fibers. In other words you of course haven't torn the whole muscle, but you have caused some of the fibers in there to become slightly frayed.
This then results in a pulled muscle, and this can be graded depending on the symptoms as grade 1, grade 2 and grade 3. Of course grade 1 is just a slight ache, whereas grade three is an injury that results in significant pain along with swelling, spasms, bruising and severely inhibited movement.
A pulled muscle should heal itself so there is no need for hospitalization or surgery in the vast majority of cases. The immediate treatment then will be self administered or overseen by friends and family and it involves the following:
You should immediately rest the area and stop unnecessary activities. You need the strain to heal and this means stopping putting pressure on it. You actually cause tiny microtears all the time just through using your muscle, but this normally isn't a problem. If you already have that many tears though then the last thing you need to do is to add more by running and walking around.
It's also important to rest for other reasons. You will be in pain most likely for instance and resting can prevent you from causing further discomfort. Likewise you need to rest in order to avoid causing other injuries as after a pulled muscle you will be of course weaker and off balance and this can make accidents more likely.
Applying ice is useful as it will help to reduce swelling which can improve comfort and also help to prevent damage. You should make sure though not to use ice for more than 20 minutes in one position as this can cause cellular damage.
Compression using an ACE soft wrapped bandage or another soft material. Again this helps to reduce swelling, but it's also important to avoid wrapping too tightly which may otherwise completely cut off blood flow.
You should also elevate the limb above heart level in order to help drain any fluids and prevent them from gathering there and thereby causing swelling and bruising. Use a cushion underneath the affected area and lie down.
You may also need to treat shock. Pulling a muscle can be a very sudden and painful occurrence and this can be enough to leave you feeling quite sick. Treating shock is important to prevent fainting which can lead to further injury. Get the person to rest and if necessary to put their head between their legs. Get them a hot cup of tea with sugar to help replace lost blood sugar and if that fails get them some fresh air which can help a lot.
You will also benefit from treating the injury with painkillers and this can take the form of paracetamol etc. Ibuprofen or aspirin are good because these thin the blood and reduce swelling as well.
Over the following days you should then treat the pulled muscle carefully and be cautious not to place too much weight on it at any time. If your pulled muscle is in the arm you may be able to benefit from creating a sling, or if it is in the legs then you may want to use a support and avoid walking over long distances.
As the problem improves you may be able to ease the recovery and discomfort by using gentle massage to stimulate blood flow to the area thereby encouraging healing. You should also make sure that you help your body to recover in other ways by getting lots of sleep and eating lots of protein. In order to repair your pulled muscle your body must rebuild the damaged tissue and this means carrying the amino acids in protein (the building blocks of life) to the area and then using them to repair the damage. This occurs largely when we sleep which is when the body unleashed 'growth hormone' that tells it to go into a repair mode – so get lots of sleep and this will also help to ensure your immune system has plenty of energy to do its job.
If your muscle ache continues then you should see a doctor. You may also have caused a sprain, fracture or other injury that needs treating. Also in some cases the muscle can heal incorrectly and in this case you should use therapeutic ultrasound in order to break it down so that you can correctly restore it.