Updated: Mar 22
Disclaimer: Although I am a licensed physical therapist, I am NOT your physical therapist. Everything in this blog is for educational purposes only and not meant to replace any advice you have received from your Doctors.
We have all been there... doing our thing, minding our own business, you could be in a workout or just doing a daily activity that you always do and BAM!
You reach a little too far, lift a little too heavy, or rotate a little too much and feel that quick sharp pain in your muscle.
The majority of the time the remainder of the story goes like this...
You hold off on exercising or any activity that causes pain and rest for 2-3 weeks. When you try to return to exercise or your sport/hobby it feels.... ok but much tighter and more stiff than before. And then you constantly deal with that tightness for the next 3-4 weeks, or maybe even longer! OR you return to your hobby and end up injuring that muscle AGAIN 😥
Well continue reading and save this post to learn how to recover from a muscle strain as fast as possible and totally avoid the above situation ⬆
I have experienced it myself, and have had clients follow these steps after a muscle strain that would have taken us out of commission for 2-3 weeks...but by following the steps below were back at it 100% only after 1 week!
Of course that is never guaranteed, and it always depends on how badly your muscle strain is... but following these steps WILL improve your recovery time.
First off, a quick anatomy lesson on muscle strains. A strain is actually tearing of your muscle fibers. It sounds more scary than it actually is... it is NOT like tearing a ligament or a tendon (when you need surgery to fix it). When you workout your muscle fibers are actually micro-tearing and rebuilding (the rebuilding is actually what makes you stronger).
There are different grades of muscle strains... for simplicity let's go over 3 grades
Grade 1 muscle strain: Excessive pull of the muscle fibers, no actual tearing, no loss of muscle function, less than 5% of the muscle is involved. Usually no medical treatment is needed for this.
Grade 2 muscle strain: Considered a moderate strain, over 5% of the muscle is involved, mild tearing of muscle fibers, noticeable pain and weakness, mild to moderate bleeding/bruising
Grade 3 muscle strain: Considered a severe strain, the majority or all of the muscle is involved with significant or complete tearing of the muscle. There is significant bleeding/bruising, pain, weakness and could have total loss of muscle function.
**Note: the bleeding is only happening on the inside, which is why you might notice bruising around the area a few days after your injury. It's nothing to be too alarmed about. Also, you might notice bruising much lower than where you actually injured yourself. This is because of gravity. If you have a grade 2 strain in your hamstring, the gravity from standing or walking probably pulled the bleeding down into your calf. That does not mean you also injured your calf.
Now, what you have been waiting for...
Massage it, roll it, trigger point massage, manual therapy... whatever you want to call it! Put some gentle pressure on the injured muscle. Only do what you can tolerate pain wise. If your strain is fairly bad, you might need to wait a day or two before you can tolerate any massage. You will know you are hitting the right spot when you feel the tenderness. Massage for 3-5 minutes at a time 1-3x day (based on what you can tolerate)
*TIP: if it's too painful to massage directly on the injured spot, massage as close as you can above or below the injured spot
The pressure/massage on the injured muscle fibers will spark the inflammatory process, which in turn jump starts the healing process in the body. Yes, this would eventually happen naturally... but by stimulating the area directly it's like you you are putting huge flashing arrow signs to the injured muscle. Your body will recognize the injured area faster and with more intensity!
*SECOND TIP: if the area you massaged does get swollen, hold off any further massage until the swelling subsides and continue to follow the next few steps. Don't worry, it does not mean you did anything wrong (we wanted the inflammatory process to start) AND if there is NO swelling that also does not mean you did anything wrong!
The WORST thing you could do after a muscle strain, is actually not moving it at all!
Complete lack of movement actually creates more tightness, more pain and slows the healing process. Gentle movement ensures that the injured muscle gets enough blood flow to heal and ensures the recovering muscle fibers heal correctly!
Your muscle fibers normally lay in a nice parallel fashion on top of each other. And when you move your body, these parallel fibers glide freely on top of one another. After injury, these healing muscle fibers tend to recover NOT in their nice original parallel fashion, but in a crisscross spider web fashion. Your body does this because it is trying to make the tissue stronger than it was before...
The problem is it only ends up making your tissue more stiff and tighter!
So when you give the healing muscle frequent gentle movement, the fibers are more likely to heal parallel and avoid that long lasting tightness once your pain is gone!
Important tips for movement after injury:
• Begin with gentle joint circles or just bending and straightening the joint closest to the injured muscle
• This movement should be PAIN FREE
• The circles might be very small to start to avoid pain, but these will still be beneficial
• Circles at the joints above and below the injured muscle are also helpful
• Basically any small movement that is pain free is GOOD
After you massaged it and moved it, put some ice on it to manage your pain and soreness. Apply ice to the area for 10-15 minutes. Bags of ice can be applied directly to the skin if you can tolerate it. If you are using a gel pack it is usually a better to use a layer between the ice and skin.
Check out my prior blog post about when to use ice versus heat...
**Remember, to get the quickest recovery you should be doing all 3 steps sequentially and with in the same "sitting". By that I mean you should be doing your gentle movement directly after you finish your massage on the area, directly followed by your ice. Depending on the severity of your injury and your pain, you can do this entire 3 step sequence 1-3x day.
Overall, be patient, be consistent and most importantly... listen to your body! It knows exactly what it needs better than anyone else and will tell you :)
Comment below with any questions! Share this post with anyone who might need it. And bookmark, save or PIN this post for future reference!