If you lead an active lifestyle, you’re at risk of developing strained or torn muscles. At all levels, muscle injuries are frequent in common sports, accounting for as much as 55% of all sports-related injuries.
So regardless of your age or overall fitness, you should understand the causes of muscle tears and sprains, what symptoms to look for, and your treatment options. Here’s what you need to know if you feel extra sore, stiff, or are struggling to move after exerting yourself.
Common Causes of Muscle Injuries
Contrary to common conception, you don’t need to be an athlete to suffer from a muscle injury. As Johns Hopkins points out, even walking at a moderate pace can be enough.
That said, the causes you hear about most often do tend to be exercise-related. These include a person not warming up before exercise, having poor flexibility, or overexerting themselves.
Non-exercise-related trauma is the next most common cause. Slipping, falling, or otherwise losing your footing can result in muscle sprains. So can lifting something too heavy or lifting in an awkward position.
Acute muscle sprains are also more common during cold weather.
Chilly temperatures make the muscle fibers stiffer than would otherwise be. In this state, they’re more susceptible to stress and tearing. So when it’s cold out it’s extra important to take the time to warm up before any physical activity.
Signs of Torn Muscles
The symptoms you experience can vary depending on how a sprain occurs and how severe the damage is.
Warning signs to watch for include sudden pain, lingering soreness, reduced range of movement, bruising or discoloration, swelling, stiffness, weakness, and spasms in the muscle.
In the case of a mild injury, you might only feel a slight stiffness. The muscle will be tender and sore, but you’ll still be able to move as normal. These symptoms will fade in a matter of weeks.
By contrast, a severe muscle tear is impossible to ignore. The pain can be debilitating and your range of movement is highly limited. These injuries can take months to heal.
Treating a Muscle Injury
You can often take care of some sprains at home by applying rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). RICE is the standard first-aid procedure for many common injuries and may be the only treatment that a mild sprain needs.
However, some symptoms can be warning signs of a more serious injury. Numbness in the affected area, bleeding from the injury, or the inability to move a limb are all urgent symptoms. Pain that doesn’t improve after a week is also a cause for concern.
If you experience any of those conditions, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. A physical examination will let a doctor determine the extent of your injury so that can recommend a course of treatment.
The next steps will depend on how bad the injury is. A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling. They may also give you pain relievers to reduce your discomfort.
If medications are not sufficient, you may need to undergo physical therapy. In therapy, you’ll learn and perform exercises to help strengthen the damaged muscle and restore its full range of movement.
If an injury is severe enough, you may be recommended surgery to reconstruct the damaged tissue. Success rates vary, and surgery will always be reserved as a last resort.
A Non-Surgical Alternative for Severe Injuries
If you are recommended for surgery, you may yet have an alternative option. Platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy is a non-surgical treatment that can help your body heal damaged tissues.
The technique uses the platelets in your blood to help stimulate your body’s healing response.
Platelets are the cellular fragments that cause your blood to clot. Think of them like natural bandages. If you ever scrapped your knee as a kid, the scab was formed by platelets clustering at the site of the injury and hardening into a protective shell over the wound.
PRP works by extracting platelets from a sample of your blood and producing a dense concentration of them. The resultant platelet rich plasma is then injected into the site of a muscle injury. There, the platelets will break down, releasing their natural growth factors and helping speed the healing process.
It’s a relatively new procedure, championed by athletes like Tiger Woods, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Aaron Nola, and tennis star Rafael Nadal. And research supports its regenerative potential.
If you sustain a serious muscles tear, PRP therapy may be your best way to avoid undergoing surgery. It may also provide relief from lingering muscle pain when other treatments fail.
Common Mistakes After Torn Muscles
After suffering a muscle injury, you might try stretching out to relieve the pain. But you should resist that impulse.
When a muscle is torn, the damaged fibers will start working to heal and reattach to each other. Muscle fibers are very delicate during this period, and aggressive stretching can cause more pain, further damage to the tissue, and delay healing.
Earlier we touched on the acronym RICE. But there’s also the lesser-known HARM, which describes a set of behaviors to avoid after an injury.
HARM stands for applying heat, drinking alcohol, running, and massaging. All these activities can increase the pain, swelling, and damage from an injury during the first 48-72 hours and should be avoided.
Lastly, many athletes who suffer long-term injuries do so because they rush themselves back into action before they’re ready. This is understandable for professionals who are under pressure to perform. But everyday individuals with no such responsibilities can make the same mistake.
This can be because muscle tears become less painful as they heal. But the fact that the pain is subsiding doesn’t always mean you’re ready to return to action.
It’s important to test your limits gradually, starting with modest exercises and working your way back up to 100%. You should also get the approval of your medical professional before returning to strenuous activity.
Recovering From Muscle Injuries
While torn muscles and similar injuries may be common, they’re nothing to take lightly. A lack of proper treatment can extend your recovery time. In severe cases, the damage may even be permanent.
So if you suspect you’re dealing with a muscle injury, don’t wait. Contact us today to schedule an evaluation and discuss your treatment options.