Muscle injuries are among the most common injuries in athletes. In fact, muscle strains account for 55% of all athletic injuries. But they're not only reserved for basketball and football players.
Non-athletes also get muscle strains for one of two reasons. The muscle gets stretched beyond its limits or it's contracted with too much force.
Although it's painful and uncomfortable, you don't always have to run to the ER or urgent care clinic. There are many home remedies for a muscle strain that will have you back to your normal mobility in no time. Check out five of these home remedies below.
Differences Between a Strain and a Sprain
Strains and sprains are often confused. They share the same signs and symptoms, but they actually affect different parts of your body.
A sprain is a tear or a stretch to your ligament. This is the tissue that holds your joints together or connects bones or cartilage.
A strain is a tear or a stretch to your muscle or tendon. You know what a muscle is, and a tendon is a tissue that connects your muscle to your bone.
The most common sprain is in the ankle, while strains frequently occur in the lower back and hamstring.
When someone says, "I pulled my muscle," they're referring to a Grade 1 muscle strain. These take days to a couple weeks to heal.
A Grade 2 strain is when more muscle fibers get torn, causing more pain and discomfort. These strains require medical treatment and can take a couple months to be 100% healed.
A Grade 3 strain is severe and the muscle or tendon has ruptured. Sometimes, you may need surgery to reattach the muscle or tendon and the recovery time is several months.
Home Remedies for a Muscle Strain
If you suffer from a muscle strain that's on the lower end of the pain scale, the following routine will bring you needed relief. In the medical and physical therapy communities, these steps get referred to as the R.I.C.E. approach. You should use this approach for 24-48 hours:
Even if you suffer from a Grade 1 strain, you should avoid physical activity for at least 24 hours. With some minor strains, you need to hold off activities that increase your pain and swelling for up to a week.
The amount of rest depends on your level of discomfort. If you're an active person who works out or exercises, a strain to your lower back or hamstring makes these activities difficult.
Don't ever push yourself to get in your gym time. You only risk making your injury worse.
As soon as you feel your muscle or tendon strain, grab an ice pack. If you don't have an ice pack, you can make one with ice and a resealable bag. Another icing method is to soak in an ice bath.
In all instances, you should apply ice for 15-20 minutes every two to three hours. You should follow this routine for the first few days after your injury. It's possible to get frostbite if you ice your injury for too long, so keep it to a max of 20 minutes.
Ice reduces swelling and inflammation. It can also slow internal bleeding from a muscle or tendon tear. You'll likely find that ice is also a natural pain reliever as hot and cold therapy is a proven pain management technique.
If you have diabetes or a cardiovascular disease, call your doctor before you apply ice.
Compressing your injury also reduces swelling. You do this with an elastic wrap or boot. Braces are another effective way to compress your injury.
If you wrap your injury too tightly, you run the risk of interfering with your circulation. To avoid this, start wrapping at the farthest point from your heart. For example, if you have a hamstring strain, start wrapping from above your knee up, not from your thigh downward.
If it's too tight or the area starts to numb, loosen your wrap or adjust your brace.
The final step in R.I.C.E. is elevation. You want to keep your injured muscle elevated above your heart as much as possible. While this is difficult in certain strains, try to elevate it to some degree, especially while you sleep.
5. OTC Pain Medication
In minor strains, you won't need a prescription pain medication unless your injury gets worse and you need surgery. Over the counter medication like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) should bring you relief.
These include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. If you have a low pain tolerance, your doctor is able to prescribe ibuprofen and naproxen in stronger doses.
When Should You See a Doctor?
If your experiencing pain on the higher end of the pain scale and the home remedies above aren't working, it's time to seek medical care.
You should also head to the emergency room if you heard a popping sound when your injury occurred. If you have significant swelling, bruising, or can't walk after 24 hours, call your doctor.
Muscle Injury Prevention
In most cases, strains and sprains occur by accident. You slip off a ladder and your leg gets caught on a rung or you fall awkwardly on a wet driveway. But there are some steps you can take to reduce the chances these accidents lead to a muscle injury.
Stretching and exercising before physical activity - even walking from the train terminal to your office - will warm your muscles up. Flexible muscles are less likely to get strained because you'' increase your muscle limitations.
Another way to improve your body's total function is by taking vitamins. Our bodies need 13 essential vitamins and when we're not getting them all, we're not operating at our best.
Quality Medical Supplies for Less
While painful, muscle injuries are often manageable. In minor cases, home remedies for a muscle strain will help relieve your pain and swelling in a matter of days. But if your discomfort is unbearable, seek medical attention.