Muscle pulls are one of the most common injuries in the modern era, especially given that many citizens in developed nations are employed in service positions that require little physical activity. As a consequence of so much sedentary activity, underdeveloped muscles are more susceptible to injury when they are engaged in routine activity, as well as less capable of managing loads without straining. Normally, muscle pulls involve swelling, redness, or bruising at the injury site, as well as pain when the muscle is engaged (and occasionally even when it is at rest). Depending on whether or not the tendon (tough connective tissue that binds muscle to bone) was also injured, you may experience decreased mobility. Seek immediate medical attention if you hear a “pop” accompany the injury, as this may indicate a substantial muscle tear or displacement of a nearby joint.
Unless the muscle tear is quite severe, recovery can proceed at home using a variety of methods depending on your pain tolerance, work schedule, and your desired level of mobility. Normally, recovering from a muscle tear begins with rest (usually 1-4 days, depending on the site and severity of injury and how integral it is to your routine motion). Ice and cold packs help to reduce inflammation, which is the body’s natural attempt to immobilize the site and reduce the chances of further injuring the muscle. Anti-inflammatory medication (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS) like ibuprofen can also reduce swelling while simultaneously mediating pain levels. If you have never taken NSAIDs before, however, you should check with your physician prior to beginning a regimen.
While rest, ice, and painkillers are definitely helpful, they are by no means the only avenue back to your desired level of mobility. In fact, when it comes to muscle tears, prolonged rest can actually reduce long-term mobility. As soon as you feel able, begin gently stretching and maneuvering the injury site. Restoring flexibility and strength to a muscle during its recovery will bring nutrients (through increased blood flow) and substantially decrease the chances for further injury in the future.
Avoiding muscle fatigue is another key issue to avoid re-injury. Office workers may be surprised to know that they place substantial demands on the muscles in their backs, shoulders, and necks with prolonged sedentary activity (e.g. sitting in front of a computer monitor). These muscles tense to bear the body’s weight over time they become deprived of oxygen, leading to muscle spasms and an increased risk of injury. Periodic cardiovascular exercise, stretching, and walking can help restore oxygen to these muscles and decrease the risk for future injuries.