You pulled a muscle, now what?

There you were, trying to stretch a little deeper or bump up your strength training, but you ended up pushing it a little too far and you pulled a muscle.

You felt that instant pull and ‘ouch‘ and now you’re holding the injured area trying to take a moment to see how hurt you are.

We’ve all been there.

But what to do about it? And what is it exactly?

What we commonly call a “pulled” muscle might a muscle strain. A strain is an injury to your muscle (an injury to a ligament is called a sprain); and is usually caused by the tissue being overstretched or overloaded.

The overload can be the result of overstretching or a sudden and probably large force.

Maybe you stretched a little too far.

Or maybe your dog saw something really exciting…

via GIPHY

What to do to heal

Regardless of how it happened, one of the more important things to do is to evaluate the severity of your injury (mild, moderate or severe). This almost necessarily requires you to stop what you were doing so that you can take a moment to breathe. Pain and inflammation/swelling are going to be good indicators for you in the first few hours. If either the pain or the swelling are great, that’s your cue to get to a sports medicine doctor promptly.

In the case of mild to moderate strains, some basic first aid should suffice: compression helps (either from your hand or from a relatively-loosely-applied elastic bandage); you can also elevate the injured area. Ice is a tricky one: strictly speaking, it doesn’t really help, but if you feel better putting an ice pack on there, go for it.

In the three to five days that follow, complete rest is not going to be helpful. Movement is good for your healing muscle. The key is to modify appropriately.

I know this can be difficult, but definitely taking this time to help your muscle heal will get you back doing what you love to do sooner. If you try to push through or get back to your activity too quickly, you risk disrupting the healing process. So please take the time to let your body heal. This is where gentle CARs can be helpful. (some videos here, here, here, here, here and here.)

If, after about a week, it isn’t feeling better, please go to see a sports medicine professional.

STRETCHING ≠ MAGIC BULLET

As a coach, I often hear from clients and students that they pulled a muscle and they keep trying to stretch it to make it feel better.

I know it’s tempting, but please reconsider.

That “tension” you’re feeling is likely a combination of swelling and protective tension. Neither of those tend to respond well to stretching.

What does help is performing gentle movements in ranges of motion that don’t cause (too much) discomfort.

Most muscle “pulls” will generally heal in about a week. During that time, it’s wise to ease back into activity, slowly testing the waters. If your pulled muscle still feels painful after a week, seeing a medical professional is advised to make sure it is not a more serious injury. They should also be able to help you with creating a good routine for healing and getting back to you all your regular, and fun activities again.

Can i prevent muscle strains?

Not 100% no, but you can do something about what might have caused your muscle pull. Accidents happen, so we can’t prevent muscle strains or injuries completely, but if you take a look at how the muscle pull occurred this can help you come up with a way to mitigate the likelihood of injury or re-injury.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Did you not have a thorough enough warm-up?
  • Is there an underlying muscle imbalance?
  • Did you use improper form?
  • Did you push too far/hard too fast?
  • Are you over-training and it was due to fatigue?

Once you have an idea of what might have been the root of the injury, how can you go about addressing the cause to hopefully reduce the likelihood in the future.

If you know the ‘pull’ was because of not a thorough warm-up, coming up with a thorough warm-up for yourself would be a great idea. If you think you’re over-training, add an additional rest day to your training schedule. If your unsure if you have a muscle imbalance seeing a Physical Therapist or an Exercise Specialist for a movement screen is a good way to find out. You can also reach out to us as this is a service we provide for people in person and online.

Maybe you already worked with a physical therapist during your recovery. They’re an excellent source to contact as they already know your injury. Heck they may have already helped you identify how the pull occurred and how to reduce the likeliness of occurring again.

A plan will usually include something that will help regain your range of motion, strengthen the area with some rehab exercises (think therabands) and then how to progressively challenge the muscles to get them stronger than when they were before injured.

If you’re not entirely sure of the root cause of the muscle strain. Contacting a PT or Exercise Specialist (think Strength Coach or Personal Trainer) to help you come up with a plan to stay strong and healthy. We are always happy to work with you, so feel free to contact us and we can set up a time for an assessment and get you back to doing what you love to do!

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