Muscle strain

Martina Feichter studied biology with pharmacy as an optional subject in Innsbruck and also delved into the world of medicinal plants. From there, it wasn’t far to other medical topics that still captivate her today. She trained as a journalist at the Axel Springer Academy in Hamburg and has been working for NetDoktor since 2007 – first as an editor and since 2012 as a freelance writer.

A muscle strain is the result of overstretching the muscle. The cause is often a sudden overload. In principle you can pull any skeletal muscle. A muscle strain particularly often affects the back, thigh and calf muscles. Read here everything important about the topic: How does a strain develop?? What symptoms does it cause? How it is diagnosed? And: What to do in case of muscle strain?

Muscle strain

Muscle strain: description

What is a strain? This refers to muscle strain, which is one of the most common sports injuries. But it can also happen in everyday life that you pull a muscle due to an unnatural movement or an acute overload.

From muscle strain to muscle tear

The muscle strain is the lightest form of an overload of a muscle. An even stronger strain usually causes individual muscle fibers to tear (torn muscle fibers). This can also happen if you don’t pay attention to a muscle strain and continue to exercise despite the injury.

The injury is even more pronounced with a muscle bundle tear. A whole bundle of muscle fibers tears in the process. In extreme cases, if the entire muscle is completely severed, it is called a muscle tear.

Muscle strain: symptoms

A muscle strain manifests itself in pulling, cramp-like pain that usually develops slowly and gradually becomes stronger. The (sporting) activity can usually not be continued. Stretching and tightening the pulled muscle hurts. The affected muscle area feels painfully tense – a feeling that cannot be dispelled even by shaking, gentle massaging or loosening movements.

Muscle strain: causes and risk factors

A muscle strain happens when the muscle is overstretched. This can happen, for example, with unnatural movements or sudden excessive strain. Often such a strain affects the thigh muscles, sometimes also the back muscles. Many people, especially athletes, are familiar with the feeling of a pulled calf.

Various factors favor a muscle strain or other muscle injury. This includes, for example, a lack of warm-up before the sport, an overload of already tired muscles, insufficient training condition, lack of fitness or incorrect footwear.

No tissue damage

In the case of a muscle strain, the muscle in question has been overstretched, i.e. stretched beyond the limit of its elasticity. However, this did not result in any tissue damage. If, on the other hand, the overstretching leads to the tearing of individual muscle fibers (often associated with bleeding into the tissue), a muscle fiber tear is present.

Muscle strain: examinations and diagnosis

If a muscle injury (such as a strain) is suspected, the doctor first inquires about the symptoms and the mechanism of injury. Possible questions here are:

  • How the injury happened?
  • Where exactly do you have pain?
  • Do you have other complaints?

This is followed by a physical examination. The doctor palpates the injured area of the body. It checks the muscle hardness and whether the area is pressure painful. It also tests whether stretching or straining the muscle triggers pain and muscle strength is reduced.

Muscle strain: Treatment

A muscle strain is treated conservatively. When asked: "Muscle strain – cool or heat?"You should follow the first aid measures according to the PECH scheme:

  • Rest: stop sporting activity and rest the muscle
  • Ice: cool the injured area for at least 20 minutes (for example, with an ice pack or cold compress)
  • Compression: apply an elastic pressure bandage
  • Elevation of an injured extremity

After the acute phase, as soon as the pain subsides due to cooling and the increased muscle tension subsides, you can carefully move the pulled muscle again. Gentle, light stretches are recommended, holding the stretch for six to eight minutes (i.e., no short bobbing movements).

Particularly in professional athletes, a muscle strain is often treated further, for example with lymphatic drainage, electrotherapy, tape dressings or massage.

Muscle strain: course of disease and prognosis

In the case of a pulled muscle, it is important to stop athletic activity and take it easy on the affected muscle. If you ignore the strain and continue training – which is what some runners do with a calf strain, for example – the overloaded muscle fibers can tear. Such a muscle fiber tear has a much longer healing period than a simple strain.

Muscle strain: duration

An Muscle strain Generally heals without any problems. The muscle usually recovers within four to six days, so that you can then start light training again.

Authors& Source information

This text is based on medical literature, medical guidelines, and current studies and has been reviewed by medical experts.

Martina Feichter studied biology with pharmacy as an elective subject in Innsbruck, where she also immersed herself in the world of medicinal plants. From there, it was not far to other medical topics that still captivate her today. She trained as a journalist at the Axel Springer Academy in Hamburg and has been working for NetDoktor since 2007 – first as an editor and since 2012 as a freelance writer.

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