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How to Treat a Muscle Pull or Strain

How to Treat a Muscle Pull or Strain

A muscle pull or strain is caused when a muscle is overstretched and gets torn. This usually happens due to lack of warm up before physical exercise or due to strain on an already weak muscle. However, the treatment could be carried out at home. To know how to treat a muscle pull or strain, read on...
Debopriya Bose
Last Updated: Feb 2, 2018
A muscle pull can cause mild discomfort or can disable a person from performing his daily activities. One can recognize a pulled muscle due to stiffness and pain in it, that intensifies within the next 24 hours and restricts movement. If the fibers of a muscle tear as a result of overstretching or due to an injury to the muscle or tendon, the condition is known as 'strain'. In layman's language, it is known as a 'pulled muscle'. When a ligament is injured, it is called a 'sprain'.
A muscle pull that causes only mild discomfort and does not prevent an individual from doing his daily activities is identified as a Grade I muscle pull. Pulled muscles that fall in Grade II cause moderate pain and may be associated with bruising and swelling. A Grade III muscle pull causes a lot of pain. There is significant swelling, muscle spasms and bruising. A severe muscle strain can even lead to torn muscle and torn blood vessels.
Treating a Pulled Muscle
Due to our busy lifestyle, we hardly get enough time to do physical exercises. To add to it, long hours in office, bad posture while working and lack of proper rest have made us more prone to muscle pulls, sprains and strains. However, thankfully with proper rest and the simple steps discussed in this article, a pulled muscle can be easily nursed back to health.

Note: Open wounds, fever and severe pain are the symptoms which need prompt medical attention. If you cannot lift your arm/leg or walk at all, if you have heard a 'popping' sound with the injury, if you notice significant swelling around the injured part, you should immediately contact your physician.
This is the first and the most crucial step of the treatment. As soon you experience a pull in your muscle, stop doing the activity that caused it. Refrain from using the injured part for the next 2 to 3 days. Resume your activity slowly. A muscle pull can give rise to pain even when you are resting. Be sure that the affected muscle has healed completely. Otherwise a muscle that has not properly recovered from its injury becomes more prone to being torn with even little strain, and repeated injury might turn into a bigger medical problem.
Apply Ice
After one has sustained a muscle pull, ice should be applied as soon as possible. The low temperature of ice slows down blood flow to the injured area. This prevents swelling of the muscle. The ice also numbs the nerves in the region that eases the sensation of pain. However, one must not apply ice for more than 20 minutes as prolonged ice application may cause a frozen nerve that takes long to heal. In case numbness sets in even before 20 minutes, application of ice must be discontinued. Also be careful not to apply ice directly on the skin as that might injure the skin or cause a superficial frostbite. Always fold the ice cubes in a towel or cotton cloth and then apply it on the injured area.

Ice should be applied for 20 minutes followed by a break of 20 minutes. This should be done for 2 hours per session with 2 sessions each day. This regime could be followed for 2 to 3 days. It can be extended to a couple of days more in case the injury is severe. While one is applying ice, the injured part should be kept at an elevated level. This would help reduce swelling of the muscles.
Apply Heat
Many physical therapists recommend heat application along with treatment with ice to heal a strained muscle. With the initial stages of slowing down blood flow to the injured part by applying packs of ice to it, heat application causes extra blood to flow into the strained muscle. This prevents muscle spasms. Heat application should be done for 20 minutes once a day. While there are some therapists and sports coaches who swear by the healing effects of a hot compress, there are others who advise completely against it. It would be best to be careful and apply heat to only a portion of the injured muscle initially to see how it responds to this treatment.
It is advisable to follow elevation of the injured part as ice is being applied to it or just after such a session. Elevation drains excess fluid out of the injured part. This relieves muscle pain and swelling. If the injury is in the arm or leg, the limb could be propped up on pillows as one is lying down. In case one has pulled a muscle in his back or neck, lying down comfortably on the stomach would work.
Wrapping the injured part in an elastic bandage or with an ace wrap helps to reduce swelling by application of pressure. It provides extra strength to the muscle and also reduces movement, thereby ensuring that the muscle is not subjected to unnecessary strain. Hence, using a bandage specially when one is planning to do some light activity helps to prevent further injury. Compression works best when applied after the area has been treated with ice and elevated.
In case the swelling and pain is severe, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin (Bufferin, Ecotrin) and ibuprofen (Advil) can be taken. However, many of them cause side effects like an upset stomach. It is best to consult a physician before taking these medicines. Homeopathic medicines like Arnica cream is a safer option and has been found useful by many.
Herbal Wraps
Herbal wraps work great for muscle strain. A paste or plaster of certain herbs when applied to the affected area improves 'energy circulation' and promotes fast recovery. Asians have been using herbal wraps for centuries. You should buy an authentic herbal wrap, from a reliable source.
Physical Training
After the muscle has healed following a muscle strain treatment, and one feels comfortable to resume normal or athletic activities, it is important to strengthen the injured muscle. Training under proper guidance is strongly recommended. Not only the injured muscles but also all the muscles should be stretched before starting the workout. One should be slow with the workout regime, as over-straining the weak muscle may cause muscle injury again. A proper warm up before physical exercises should be done without fail.
Any strenuous activity like suddenly lifting a heavy grocery bag can result in muscle strain. Athletes are more prone to this condition as they undergo intensive training. Not only strenuous sports activities but insufficient rest, poor diet, and sedentary lifestyle (no exercise), also increase your chances of suffering from frequent muscle pulls. For severe muscle strain, you should immediately consult your physician. Following home remedies can help lower the pain and discomfort caused by a mild muscle pull. The recovery time depends upon the severity of the injury and overall health of the person.
The aforementioned treatment options work well in case of a minor muscle pull, and they need not be followed in the same order as they have been mentioned. As mentioned above, in case of severe stress or strain, it is best to consult a physician. If home remedies bring no relief in 24 hours, you should seek proper medical help.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.
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