Have you ever pulled a muscle so badly you couldn’t lift up a limb? I certainly have. I used to do it all the time when I was younger and thought I was invincible to stretching and sports injuries, however, I paid the price for that misconception.
One time I actually tore my groin muscle pitching in a softball game. I instantly fell to the ground on the mound. I didn’t know what happened, but I did know I was in so much pain you would have thought my leg fell off. What I thought was just a badly pulled muscle that would heal in no time, was actually a severe muscle strain that damaged my muscle fibers and tore a tendon. I was on crutches for two weeks and had to go to physical therapy for three months. No joke. A note to self going forward from that moment: stretch before any activity, even if it's raking leaves!
Not to be confused with sprain, a muscle strain refers to a muscle pull or tear to a particular muscle or the tendon attached. The damage can be a slight or full tear of the muscle fibers or tendon causing damage to surrounding blood vessels, which leads to localized bleeding or bruising, swelling, tenderness and pain. These symptoms are extremely similar to that of a sprain, but the difference is a strain can be in any muscle, including neck, hamstring, bicep, or achilles tendon (heard of soccer hunk, David Beckham’s most recent injury?), and a sprain is damage to a ligament, localized to a specific joint in the body. Some additional symptoms for a sprain include muscle weakness, inability to use the muscle at all, and pain even while at rest.
After being diagnosed with a muscle strain and tendon tear, I went home with my crutches and sat on the couch for a week crying about what a dummy I was for taking my youth for granted and not stretching properly - or at all for that matter. I knew I had a long recovery ahead of me, but I wanted to make a full one with no limitations so I spoke with my doctor about some self care options, are now I will pass them to you because I have yet to strain a muscle after that experience.
1) I applied ice to my groin for the first few days until the swelling was subsiding
2) After that, I started to incorporate heat, using a heat/ice combination. Just be careful you don’t introduce heat too soon. Applying it while there is still substantial swelling will not do your injury any good.
3) I obviously stopped all activity. I even stayed home from school in fear of slipping with crutches and re-injuring myself. At that point, that was definitely my worst nightmare. In general, just be protective of your injury and rest as much as possible the first few days, or until you start showing signs of improvement. If the pain and swelling remains the same or worse, seek medical attention promptly.
4) Since I was dealing with a groin injury, I kept my hip and leg elevated slightly. Elevating the injury can help reduce swelling in order for the damaged area to start recovering.
5) In some cases of a muscle strain, compression with an ace bandage can provide support and decrease swelling. Be sure not to wrap too tightly. Since my injury was to my groin it was a little difficult to wrap, but once I got back on the pitching mound, my trainer and I found a way to wrap my hip and leg up (after many failed attemps) and it provided me with a comfortable amount of support.
Come back Wednesday where we can discuss when it is safe to resume normal activity, and how to avoid a muscle strain in the future.