Norman Regional Health System

Monday, August 15, 2022

Muscle strains are a common condition with more than 3 million U.S. cases per year. It’s important to be aware of the risks associated with muscle strains and to know what to do if you experience one. Theodore Boehm, MD, a sports medicine physician with Norman Regional’s Ortho Central clinic, answers many of the common questions people have about muscle strains, muscle strain symptoms and strain injury treatment.

Q: What is a muscle strain?

A: A muscle strain is an injury to the muscle fibers themselves that can occur after the muscle sustains a force that it cannot tolerate. The most common symptoms of a muscle strain are soreness and it really depends on the severity of the strain.

There are varying degrees of muscle strains ranging from a grade one strain all the way to a grade three strain, which is essentially a tear of the muscle. So depending on the degree of the strain, you could have a pulling sensation on the muscle, it could just be some generalized soreness if it’s more mild and if it’s more severe, you may feel a pop. When some people strain their calf muscle they say it feels like someone kicked them in the back of the leg and it can be hard to walk. There can also be swelling and bruising and usually those will scale along with the degree of the injury.

Q: When should someone see a doctor?

A: A grade one muscle strain can get better on its own. It does help if you know some things to do to help accelerate the healing process. There has been some recent controversy over whether we should be icing after a muscle strain because there is some literature out there saying you actually need inflammation for it to heal. However, the tried and true old mantra for muscle strains for years has been R.I.C.E., which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Some people also include ‘M’ in there for medications like anti-inflammatories, but again, some of the newer literature suggests we need that inflammation. Essentially, most muscle strains will resolve on their own, but you can do things to assist that healing along the way.

If you have pretty serious swelling and bruising after a strain, it’s always better to have an expert look at it just to make sure of where the injury occurred. If it’s not in the muscle belly itself and it’s in the musculotendinous junction or tendon itself, then it could be a surgical problem. However, if there’s no swelling, no bruising and it seems to be getting better, you probably don’t need to see a doctor.

Q: How long does a muscle strain last?

A: This is a tough question to answer because it depends on the grade of the strain. Sometimes they can resolve in a week, sometimes it can take six weeks or more. Re-injury can complicate things as well, so I always tell people to wait until it feels better and then give it more time before you push it. So if it took two weeks for the strain to start feeling better, I would recommend taking an additional week or so before pushing that muscle hard again.

Q: What causes a muscle strain?

A: Sometimes they happen and there’s really nothing you can do to help it, even if you’ve warmed up and everything. Before activities, it always helps to warm the muscle up properly through active stretching rather than static stretching. Like when you watch soccer players warm up before a game, you’ll see them doing high knees and jogging and all that to warm up their muscles instead of doing bending over and touching their toes for 30 seconds.

Unfortunately, sometimes you can do everything correctly beforehand and there can still be a force that is placed on a muscle that is too much for it to handle in that particular moment and you’ve got a strain. So there are things you can do to help and minimize the risk of a strain, but the risk will still be there. Stretching even when you aren’t doing any activities can also help.

Q: How do you treat a muscle strain?

A: If we are dealing with a more severe strain, we can do things to help with the swelling since there is pain associated with that. Many times physical therapy can be important to help people recover quickly from significant injuries. The good thing about muscle strains is that as long as they are in the muscle itself and not at the musculotendinous junction or down in the tendon itself, they will typically heal on their own even if they are severe injuries. Again though, if they are severe enough, sometimes surgery is necessary.

If you ever find yourself wondering whether your muscle strain is severe enough to require treatment, the best option is to seek a professional such as Dr. Boehm or one of the other specialists at Ortho Central to take a look. Call Ortho Central at 405-360-6764 to schedule an appointment at any of the three locations in Norman, Midwest City or Tri-City.