Physiotherapy for muscle injuries
Muscle injuries are some of the most common injuries we see here at Lane Cove Physio. You don’t need to be a professional footy player to pull a hamstring, and you don’t need to be Arnold Schwarzenegger to tear a pec or bicep.
In fact, many amateur sports participants will suffer a muscle strain of some degree, with studies showing that up to 50% of all injuries seen by physiotherapists are muscle injuries.
You don’t need to be an elite athlete to reap the rewards of seeing a specialist sports physio either, the specialist part just means they are some of the most knowledgeable in their field when it comes to injuries commonly found in sport and exercise.
Seeing a sports specialist physiotherapist will help you to:
- Get clear identification and advice about what’s causing your injury
- Understand the activities/movements that cause pain
- Understand a range of exercises that will minimise your risk of an injury
You may know muscle strains as a “pulled muscle”. Muscle strains can occur in many muscle groups, however the most common types of muscle strains seen by sports specialist physios are:
- Hamstring Strains
- Calf Strains
- Rotator Cuff Tears
- Groin Strains
What is the difference between a muscle strain and a sprain?
Strains and sprains sound similar and are often confused, but they are two completely different types of injuries.
A strain is the stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon, while a sprain is the stretching of the ligaments that connects two bones together.
Both muscle strains and ligament sprains can be extremely painful and your sports specialist physio will be able to assess the injured tissue accurately to develop an effective treatment plan.
What are the symptoms of a muscle strain?
Muscle strain symptoms can vary greatly depending on the muscles affected and the grade of injury. Common muscle strain symptoms include:
- Localised and sometimes referred pain
- Muscle spasms or tightness
- Weakness or being unable to move the muscle
How are muscle injuries classified?
Over 100 years of physical therapy, a number of classification systems have been used to standardise muscle strains and tears.
Grade I Muscle Strain
- Your muscle has been overstretched and you likely have mild pain with or without localised swelling. Small tears to the muscle fibres may or may not have occurred, but most if not all the strength of that muscle still remains.
Grade II Muscle Strain
- You have torn a number of muscle fibres and you will have significant pain, bruising and swelling in the region of the injury. You might find it difficult to freely move the area due to pain and you will feel like there is a lot less strength and power in the affected area.
Grade III Muscle Strain
- Grade III muscle strains are the most serious of muscle strains. Most, if not all of the muscle fibres have been torn and you will have significant pain, swelling, tenderness and bruising. You movement will be severely restricted and you will probably have a substantial loss of strength.
How is a muscle strain treated?
A low grade muscle strain can get better on its own, but it can take days to weeks to heal completely and that’s only if the correct treatment protocols are followed.
Physiotherapy treatment of muscle strains addresses recovery in the acute phase straight after injury as well as the rehabilitation that follows.
To help your muscle strain symptoms you can:
- RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) method for the first few days. This will help to reduce swelling and minimise pain
- Get a massage
- Undergo dry needling with your physio
- Stick to pain free range of motion exercises as prescribed
During your personalised rehabilitation program, your physio will also take you through a number of specific stretches and exercises to do in order to minimise your risk of re-injury.
It’s important to let your muscle heal before you play sports or do other activities that use the muscle again. If you don’t let your muscle heal, you are likely to injure it again.
How to prevent another muscle strain
If you’ve ever had a muscle strain, it’s likely you won’t ever want another one. Dealing with a muscle injury once it’s already happened is much harder than preventing it. Here are some tips:
- Stretch before and after physical activity
- Increase the intensity of your physical activity gradually
- If you feel pain, stop exercising (it’s not all ‘no pain, no gain’)
- Stretch and strengthen your muscles as a preventative measure
Whether you have recently suffered a muscle injury and are in need of immediate physical therapy or you have suffered a muscle injury in the past, a sports specialist physiotherapist is able to assess and recommend the best activities and stretches to help speed along your recovery and reduce the likelihood of experiencing further strains. We’ll do a biomechanical assessment looking at everything from muscle tightness to weakness to how joints move.
 Barroso, G. C., & Thiele, E. S. (2015). MUSCLE INJURIES IN ATHLETES. Revista brasileira de ortopedia, 46(4), 354–358. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2255-4971(15)30245-7