Experiencing a pulled muscle during a run, exercise or physical activity usually not only painful but can be quite frustrating for us too. Usually a pulled muscle will stop you in your tracks, so you aren’t able to keep running, exercising or doing what you were doing. We might try and rest a pulled muscle for a few days or even a few weeks to help ourselves heal and get better. However your pulled muscle might start to become painful again as soon as you start running, exercising or performing that physical activity again. In this blog we talk about the best practice for recovering from a pulled muscle.
Why do we get pulled muscles?
Most often we get a pulled muscle from asking too much of that muscle. This might be from not allowing yourself enough recovery time after working out, running or physical activity, which leaves your muscles tired before you ask them to exercise again. Or maybe you increased your running or exercise intensity too quickly.
So why then if you rest your fatigued muscles after experiencing a pulled muscle does that pain come back again? When you pull your muscle, you strain that muscle overstretching your muscle fibres or your tendon.
If you over stretch your muscle it may start to develop small tears in its fibres. When a tear occurs, there is a degree of inflammation associated with it. If you’ve pulled a large muscle the muscle tears will have lots of inflammation and swelling. Even small muscle strains create inflammation – It is important to note that you don’t have to see swelling for it to be there. Inflammation is your body’s natural healing response to an injury and therefore it is a good thing.
The Healing Process of a Pulled Muscle
Inflammation is quite an important yet complex process. If you sustain an injury like a pulled muscle your muscle tissue around the injury site dies off. You will then develop a hematoma, which sometimes can be seen as bruising or a lump under your skin, you don’t always see this although it can be happening inside your muscle. Your brain sends messages to the site of your injury and releases hormones that eliminate your dead muscle tissue. You will then make new muscle cells which repair the space that was created in your muscle fibres from your pulled muscle. Your new muscle tissue develops into scar tissue. This scar tissue helps your muscle to stay strong and be able to hold up to you using and contracting your muscles again. However, your scar tissue can also develop into a problem that stops you from experiencing full recovery. The site of your scar tissue becomes the weakest part of your muscle, especially within the first two weeks after you have pulled a muscle and injured it. Over time though, your scar becomes the strongest section of your muscle.
What to do if you have pulled a muscle?
Rest is good initially in the acute post injury stage as this allows for the healing inflammatory phase to occur. However, too much rest is not good for us either. Moving your injured muscle can help improve your blood flow to the site of injury and this also helps with the healing process. Moving means gentle muscle activity such as walking, gentle bike rides, swimming, or some easy stretches. Your primary goal during this phase is to maintain any available range of motion that you have so you don’t become stiff.
Realigning your Muscle Fibres
The second phase of healing a pulled muscle is the realignment of your muscle fibres. Scar tissue knits your injury site together in an unstructured format. Initially this is a good thing as it helps create strength within your muscle. However, if you don’t work on getting the alignment of this new muscle tissue at the correct angle of pull of your muscle, your muscle won’t work too well. This is really important to get right as it can lead you to developing chronic overuse injuries.
Small isometric contractions, which are contractions without movement are the first step. This generates force within your muscle fibres. Once these exercises are mastered without pain you can commence isotonic exercises. These are exercises will shorten and lengthen your muscle throughout the movement of your joint. Once these steps are mastered without pain, you can start to reintroduce gentle runs back or exercise.
How will Physiotherapy or Remedial Massage help me overcome a Pulled Muscle?
At City Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic our Physiotherapists can perform a range of treatments that will help you overcome your pulled muscle. Our experienced therapists can perform hands on treatments to assist in scar tissue alignment, muscle pliability and pain reduction. Dry needling in the muscles that surround the site of injury or muscle pull can also help the healing process. Depending on the site and level of strain our physiotherapists may apply sports strapping or tape to support your injured muscle. Our Physiotherapists will guide you through which exercises are safe for you to perform and when to progress safely through your rehabilitation and back to running, sports or physical activity.
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