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What are Muscle Injuries?

A muscle injury, also called a muscle strain or a pulled muscle, can occur when a muscle is overstrained. This can happen during sports or with regular activities.

How do Muscle Injuries Occur?

The ends of a muscle form tendons, which attach to bones. Muscles contract to produce movement at the joints. Muscle injuries can occur during forced or explosive movements or while making sudden changes in direction. It often occurs when a strong force elongates a contracting muscle. A muscle injury can occur in the body of the muscle or at its junction with a tendon. The tendon can also rupture at its insertion into the bone.

What Increases the Risk of Muscle Injuries?

Muscle injuries are more likely to occur with:

  • Increased age
  • Reduced muscle flexibility
  • Fatigue
  • Previous muscle injury

Muscles that pass across 2 joints are more susceptible to injury. The hamstring muscles at the back of the thigh and the quadriceps at the front of the thigh pass across the hip and knee joints and the calf muscle passes across the ankle and knee joints.

Symptoms of Muscle Injuries

Muscle injuries are accompanied by pain, swelling and difficulty in moving the nearby joint.

Diagnosis of Muscle Injuries

Your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical examination. The damaged muscle is usually tender. Your doctor will palpate the muscle to identify any defect. Your muscle injury is graded to determine the appropriate treatment and how long it will take to recover.

Grade 1: Involves damage to a few muscle fibers
Grade 2: More extensive injury, but not a complete muscle rupture
Grade 3: Complete muscle rupture

An X-ray is obtained to identify if a fracture or dislocation has taken place. An MRI can help view the muscle injury and can also identify a hematoma which can form after an injury.

Treatment of Muscle Injuries

Most muscle injuries are incomplete muscle tears that are well treated by the RICE protocol:

  • Rest to the injured area
  • Ice application
  • Compression with a bandage
  • Elevation of the area

Following an injury, muscle fibers are gradually rebuilt. Scar tissue may develop as the muscle heals. There will be some loss in muscle flexibility and strength, making the muscle more prone to reinjury. You should undergo proper rehabilitation before return to full activity.

Your doctor will prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help control pain and swelling. Physical therapy is recommended to improve muscle strength and range of motion.

More aggressive therapy may be recommended for those who require faster rehabilitation. Intramuscular cortisone injections reduce inflammation and pain and have helped players return to the field quicker. However, weakening of the muscle may occur with this treatment.

Surgery is indicated for complete muscle ruptures, which can significantly affect function. It also enables a quicker return to activities and sports.

New treatments for muscle injuries include platelet rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapy. These preparations are derived from your blood or fat and injected at the site of the injury. They contain stem cells and growth factors that help regenerate and heal tissues quicker and with minimal scar tissue. These regenerative medicine treatments have shown a lot of success though more evidence is necessary.