A strain is an injury to a muscle in which the muscle fibers tear as a result of overstretching. Strains are also colloquially known as pulled muscles. The equivalent injury to a ligament is a sprain.
Typical symptoms of a strain include localized pain, stiffness, inflammation, and bruising around the strained muscle.
Strains can happen to anyone and are certainly not restricted to athletes. In fact people can commonly get strains from simple, everyday tasks. Nevertheless, people who play sports are more at risk of developing a strain.
The first modality for a muscle strain in the acute phase
- Rest: Stop all activities which cause pain to avoid the strain becoming more serious.
- Ice: Helps reduce swelling. Never ice for more than 10-15 minutes at a time. Use a layer of fabric or paper in between the ice and the injury to avoid freezing the skin.
- Compression: Wrap the strained area to reduce swelling.
- Elevation: Keep the strained area as close to the level of the heart as is conveniently possible to keep blood from pooling in the injured area.
The ice and compression (cold compression therapy) will stop the pain and swelling while the injury starts to heal itself. Controlling the inflammation is critical to the healing process and the icing further restricts fluid leaking into the injured area as well as controlling pain.
Cold compression therapy wraps are a useful way to combine icing and compression to stop swelling and pain.
This immediate treatment is usually accompanied by use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen), which both reduce the immediate inflammation, and also serve an analgesic.
It is recommended that the person injured should consult a medical provider if the injury is accompanied by severe pain, if the limb cannot be used, or if there is noticeable tenderness over an isolated spot. These can be signatures of a broken or fractured bone, or a severe strain or sprain.