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Muscle Strain

What is muscle?

Muscle is soft tissue that has the ability to contract, producing movement or the ability to maintain certain positions of your body. There are three types of muscle tissue; cardiac, smooth and skeletal. Cardiac muscle makes up the walls of your heart, allowing it to pump blood around your body. Smooth muscle is the supporting tissue of internal organs and blood vessels. Neither cardiac or smooth muscle is under voluntary control. Skeletal muscle, therefore, is the only muscle type that we can have conscious control over.

Skeletal muscle is contractile connective tissue that attaches to your bones and allows you to move. Muscles attach to bone via a tendon, and it is this unit that provides the force for movement. We have over 600 skeletal muscles in the human body under voluntary control and the most common injury is a muscle strain. Muscle strains, also known as pulled muscles or muscle tears, can vary in severity and symptoms.

Types

Grade 1: Mild damage to individual muscle fibres with symptoms of minimal loss of strength and range.
Grade 2: More muscle fibres are involved resulting in more extensive damage. This means that the muscle has not ruptured but a more significant reduction in strength and movement will be evident.
Grade 3: Complete rupture of a muscle that may require surgery to reattach. Accurate diagnosis and acute management is crucial.

Commonly, muscle strains occur when tissues are needing to contract at a high-speed and when eccentric loading is highest, in other words, the muscle is contracting while it is being stretched. Hamstrings, quadriceps, calf, and groin strains occur most commonly. Muscles may also be overstretched, causing tears in fibres.

Risk Factors

Factors that can make you more likely to sustain a muscle strain include increased age, previous muscle injury, decreased flexibility, lack of strength in the muscle and fatigue. Your physiotherapist can help you address these factors and decrease your risk of sustaining a muscle tear. If you have recently had a muscle injury, our physios can help you manage your symptoms and help you return to normal activity.

Delayed Onset Muscles Soreness

Another common source of muscle pain can be related to exercise. During exercise, muscle fibers experience microtrauma by way of small tears in fibres which then creates the stimulus for growth. If you are coming back to exercise after some time off or have a particularly intense session, the microtrauma can cause muscle pain. Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, explains the pain and stiffness felt in muscles in the one to three days post activity. This feeling is normal and should resolve in a couple of days. If it is recurrent, the intensity of exercise may be too much; our physiotherapists can talk to you about load management strategies and pain-relieving treatment.

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