Muscle strain: How to give first aid and prevent it properly

During exercise, the body will encounter many different types of injuries. Trauma can range from severe to mild, with varying prognosis. In this article we take a look at one of the most common types of injuries: muscle strains.

A muscle strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon — the fibrous tissue that connects muscle to bone. Depending on the degree of tension of the muscle fiber, muscle tension has many levels of damage. Minor injuries can only overstrain a muscle or tendon. While more serious injuries may involve partial or complete tearing. The most common cause is putting excessive pressure on tendons and muscles during everyday activities. For easy prevention, let's learn about muscle tension.


1. What is a muscle strain?

A muscle strain, or muscle pull, occurs when a muscle is overstretched or torn. This usually occurs due to fatigue, overuse or improper use of muscles. Injuries can be caused by sudden heavy lifting, while playing sports or while performing work. Muscle strain can occur in any muscle depending on the intensity used. But it's most common in the lower back, neck, shoulders and hamstrings, and the muscles behind the thighs.

Tension can cause pain and may limit movement in the affected muscle group. Mild to moderate muscle strains can be successfully treated at home with ice, heat, and anti-inflammatory medications. Severe strain or tear may require medical treatment.

Muscle strain: How to give first aid and prevent it properly

2. Symptoms of muscle tension

Usually you'll be able to tell when you're tense. Symptoms include:

  • Sudden onset of pain.
  • Pain when moving an injured muscle or moving a joint involving that muscle.
  • Limited range of motion.
  • Bruising or discoloration of the skin.
  • Swelling.
  • A knotted feeling.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Stiff.
  • Muscle weakness, and limited use of that muscle.

During a mild strain, a torn muscle may feel a little stiff, but is still flexible enough to be used. A severe muscle strain is when the muscle is severely torn. This leads to pain and very limited mobility.

Mild to moderate strains will resolve on their own in a few weeks, while severe cases can last for months.

Muscle tears can also damage small blood vessels, causing local bleeding, or bruising, and pain from irritation of nerve endings at the site of injury.

Muscle strain: How to give first aid and prevent it properly

Levels of muscle tension

3. Risk factors

Participate in contact sports, sudden impact. Football, hockey, boxing and wrestling, for example, increase the risk of muscle strain.

Certain parts of the body are more susceptible to strain when participating in certain sports. Examples include:

  • Legs and ankles. Sports that feature quick starts and jumps, such as pole vaulting and basketball. These sports can be especially difficult on the Achilles tendon in the ankle.
  • Fist sports can increase the risk of muscle strain in the hand. For example gymnastics or golf.
  • Elbow. Elbow strain is commonly caused by throwing and racquet sports. Example: baseball, handball, tennis

Muscle strain: How to give first aid and prevent it properly

Badminton is a sport that easily causes muscle tension

4. Causes of muscle tension

An acute muscle strain is when your muscle tears suddenly and unexpectedly. Such tearing can occur as a result of injury or trauma. This could be due to:

  • Not warming up properly before physical activity
  • Less flexible. Depends on your body type and fitness level. For example, middle-aged people have less flexible muscles than teenagers
  • Poor air conditioning. The ability to coordinate between muscles, bones and balance during movement.
  • Overwhelmed and tired

Misconception that only high intensity movements and exercises cause muscle tension. According to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, muscle strains can even occur from walking.

  • Acute muscle strain can occur with any movement in an uncomfortable position.

Cold weather is also an easy cause of muscle tension. This is because muscles are stiffer at lower temperatures. It's important to take extra time to warm up in cold weather.

  • Chronic muscle strains are the result of repetitive motion. This could be due to:
  • Sports such as rowing, tennis, golf or baseball
  • Hold your back or neck in an uncomfortable position for long periods of time. Most common when working at a desk with poor posture.

5. First aid for muscles

Most muscle strains are mild and can be successfully treated at home. Minor muscle strains can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE).

  • Rested

Avoid using your muscles for a few days. Especially restricting movements that cause increased pain. But too much rest can cause muscles to become weak. This can prolong the healing process. After two days, slowly begin to use the affected muscle group, taking care not to overdo it.

  • Cold compress

Apply cold immediately after your muscles are injured. This will minimize swelling. Do not place ice directly on your skin. Use an ice pack or wrap ice in a towel. Hold the ice pack on your muscles for about 20 minutes. Repeat every hour on the first day. For the next few days, apply ice every four hours.

  • Compression bandages

To reduce swelling, wrap the affected area with an elastic bandage until the swelling subsides. Be careful not to wrap the injured area too tightly. Doing so can reduce your blood circulation.

  • Elevator

Whenever possible, keep the injured muscle elevated above your heart level.

Other self-care methods include:

  • Use anti-inflammatory drugs. This will help reduce pain and swelling.
  • After three days, apply heat to the muscles several times a day. This will help bring blood circulation to the injured area for healing.
  • Don't let your muscles rest for too long. This can cause stiffness and weakness. Start light stretching as soon as possible. Slowly increase your activity level.
  • Be sure to stretch and warm up before exercising. This will help increase blood flow to your muscles and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Try to keep fit. You are less likely to experience a muscle strain if your muscles are strong and healthy.

If your muscle strain is severe, you may need medical attention. Physical therapy may also be recommended.

Muscle strain: How to give first aid and prevent it properly

6. When to see a doctor

For mild to moderate strains, home treatment is sufficient. Seek medical attention if any of the following occur:

  • The pain did not subside after a week.
  • The injured area is numb.
  • There is bleeding from your injury.
  • You cannot walk.
  • You cannot move your arms or legs.

When muscle tension is severe, clinical examination should be combined with imaging tests. X-rays and MRIs, which can help your doctor determine the extent of your injury. Treatment may include anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers to reduce pain and swelling. Physical therapy to help strengthen muscles and restore motion.

In very severe cases, surgery may be required to treat an injured muscle or tendon.

7. How to prevent muscle tension

Muscle tension can be reduced if you take some basic precautions:

  • Try not to sit in one position for too long

Take frequent breaks to move and change positions. Use a chair that provides good support for the lower back, or use pillows for support. Try to keep your knees level with your hips.

  • Maintain good posture when standing and sitting

If you spend a long period of time in one position, try to alternately place one foot and then another on a low footrest. This can help reduce pressure on your back muscles.

Muscle strain: How to give first aid and prevent it properly

Good sitting posture

  • Lift objects carefully

Keep your back straight, bend your knees, and always lift with your legs. Keep the weight close to your body. Do not lift and twist at the same time.

  • Take precautions to avoid falls

For example, keep handrails on stairs, avoiding slippery surfaces.

  • Weight loss

  • Wear well-fitting shoes

Regular exercise can keep your muscles healthy and strong. Proper technique is also important in preventing muscle strain. Always stretch and warm up before engaging in physical activity.

Likewise, take time to stretch after each workout to prevent muscle stiffness. If you're new to exercise, start slowly. Build your activity bit by bit at a time.

It is very important that you understand the limits of your body. If something doesn't feel right during an activity, stop immediately.

8. What are the outcomes for a person with muscle strain?

Recovery time depends on the severity of the injury. For a mild muscle strain, you can return to normal activities within three to six weeks with basic home care. For more severe strains, recovery can take several months. In severe cases, orthopedic surgery and physical therapy may be necessary.

Muscle strain is common, both among sports and non-sports people. In general, the results of recovery after muscle strain are complete, leaving few complications. However, depending on the extent of the effect, a severe muscle strain can limit function for several months, making it difficult to function.

Understanding the causes of muscle tension and how to prevent it in life is important. Remember basic first aid principles after a muscle strain including relaxation, cold compresses, compression, and elevation of the extremities. When there are factors that suspect serious muscle strain, it is necessary to see a doctor promptly.

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Muscle strain: How to give first aid and prevent it properly

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Doctor Luong Sy Bac's article about muscle tension, which is a common condition that causes difficulties in daily life, it is necessary to understand the causes of muscle tension and how to prevent it.