Understanding The Severity of Your Muscle Strain
“I pulled a muscle in my back”, “My neck twinged and stiffened up”
We hear this all the time so we really want to show you what it means to have a muscle strain.
There are things people can do to decrease the risk of these, but you should know and
understand them better.
All walks of life from, athletes, to sedentary individuals suffer from muscular strains. Even I
occasionally suffer from strains from the demand of my job, and the activities I choose to be
in. I just worked through a neck strain in the last month. Often patients are confused as to why it happened to them, the severity of it, and the timeline for recovery. My goal in this short article is to clear up the confusion and give you a concise understanding of muscular strain.
To start off, strains occur to muscles and sprains happen to ligaments. For the sake of this
article, we will keep it simple and discuss muscular strains. Sometimes an injury is considered a
sprain/strain because there may be a strain to the muscle and a concurrent sprain of ligaments
at the joint.
We will also divide muscular strains into two categories, chronic over-use, and acute traumatic
strains. Many times the over-use strain confuses the patient because there is no single “event”
they can pinpoint that caused their pain or injury. Whereas in a traumatic strain injury, they can
say “yeah, I picked up that TV and my back went into spasm.”
So, let’s first dissect the chronic over-use strain that is all too common on the diagram below
The Cumulative Injury Cycle represents the process in which over-use injuries and pain may
occur. This cycle is not limited to any particular activity, but anything you do repetitively.
The chronic cycle begins with overwork, such as the long duration of sitting or long distance
running, just to name a couple. This prolonged overwork may lead to muscular imbalances and
Weak & Tense Muscles/Soft Tissue. These weak and tight muscles lead to excessive Friction,
pressure, and tension to the local muscles, ligaments, tendons, and fascia. In turn, this results in
decreased circulation and swelling and hypoxia (lack of oxygen) to the area. Due to this hypoxic state (lack of oxygen to an area), the formation of adhesions, sensitive tissue and scar tissue occurs to the area, which decreases the function of the local structures. This becomes a vicious cycle that over time results in weaker and more tensed muscles and soft tissue and the cycle keeps on churning until the body turns on the alarm system that something is wrong.
That alarm system comes in the form of pain!
Now onto the dreaded acute/traumatic strain that occurs to people often, and can be extremely painful and life-altering for a stretch of time, depending on the “grade” of your strain. The below information is from the website Physiotherapy Notes, and more information can be found on their website here: http://www.physiotherapynotes.com
Grade I Muscle Strain
In grade I muscle strain, the muscle or tendon is overstretched. Small tears to muscle fibers
may or may not occur. You may have mild pain with or without swelling. Grade I strain is also
called mild muscle strain.
Grade II Muscle Strain
Also called moderate muscle strain, grade II strain occurs when the muscle or its tendon is
overstretched with more of the fibers torn but not complete. Symptoms may include marked pain with swelling. The area of injury is tender. Bruising may occur if small blood vessels at the site of injury are damaged as well. The movement may be difficult because of pain.
Grade III Muscle Strain
Grade III strain, or severe muscle strain, is the most serious among the three grades of muscle
strains. Most of the muscle fibers are torn. In some cases, the muscle is completely torn or
ruptured. Pain, swelling, tenderness and bruising are usually present. Movement is usually
Moderate and severe muscle strains should be seen by a qualified healthcare provider. For
grade I muscle strain, simple home remedies and concepts mentioned below:
Here are some corrective strategies to decrease the chances of the over-use strain or acute
traumatic strain injuries. Keep in mind, even if everything is “ideal” you still may end up with
strains and sprains if your sport or activity is strenuous in nature.