Muscle strains: how to prevent and treat them

Muscle strains: how to prevent and treat them

From stretches to tears, we take a look at muscle strains and explain what to do if it happens to you.

Whether you're an amateur or an experienced athlete, no one is immune to muscle strains. Are you experiencing a sharp pain? A particularly tense muscle? It may be a minor muscle injury.

When you're in the middle of a workout (or resting for that matter), the last thing you want to hear is a crack or pop!
But that sprint to catch the last bus or Sunday's tennis match seems to have left you with a brutal thigh injury. Ouch! Is it bad Doctor? Cramps, stiffness, muscle tears and strains... I don't know about you but I have a hard time telling the difference. 
To understand each one, how serious they are and how to treat them, I consulted Alexandre Batz, a physical therapist, osteopath, and co-founder of "Les 3 S" clinic in Dax.

What is a strained muscle?

"It is a muscle tear, also called a myofascial tear," says Alexandre Batz. He explains: "This type of injury has various degrees of seriousness: less serious cases can include cramps, tightness and stretches. Tears are more severe." While "strain" is not a scientific or medical term used by health professionals, it references the incomplete tear of a muscle. Everyone, no matter their age, can experience a strain. However, it is less common among children. It is often the result of little to no warm-up, muscular fatigue, or an overly intensive training regime.

Is it a muscle strain, pull or tear?

Do you feel a sharp, stabbing pain? There's a good chance you're suffering from a muscle strain! But the degree of seriousness ranges from a simple stretch to a tear. To identify your injury, you need to ask the right questions. 


If you experience pain or an injury, you should always consult your primary care doctor or a sports-specific specialist to receive a proper diagnosis and begin the treatment you need. A medical exam (especially palpations) or an ultrasound can provide this information but symptoms like swelling and bruising will point you in the direction of a muscle tear.

We delve into Aches and Injuries and how to continue exercising in our dedicated article.

What to do and who to see after a muscle strain or tear?

It's the morning after your workout and, despite resting and hydrating well, you feel a persistent cramp that just seems to be getting worse. You assume you're just sore, but the contraction feels pretty intense and it was brutally painful during your workout. Don't wait! It's time to see a professional. Depending on your symptoms and the medical exam, they might diagnose you with a muscle injury and prescribe suitable treatment. Whether it's a strain or a tear, physical therapy sessions will be your prescribed treatment.

Where can you strain a muscle?

Thigh, hamstring, knee...

From your thighs, hamstrings and abductors to your knees and quads… Our bodies are made up of many muscles, so there are just as many ways to pull a muscle! 
In fact, strains and muscular injuries are most common in the lower body, especially in the thighs. In rare cases, you can also experience a muscle strain in your upper body (in the shoulder for example, even though tendinitis is more common).

Treating a torn or strained muscle

Muscle injuries occur when you overload or stress your muscle too much. For example, when running, muscle strains commonly occur during quick direction changes.

Here are a few good tips to follow immediately after an injury:

👉 Immediately stop exercising and rest for at least a few days;

👉 Compress the muscle to relieve pain;

👉 Apply ice sparingly to the affected area (cold is a powerful analgesic, meaning that it relieves pain and can be used in place of anti-inflammatories, which are not recommended for this type of injury);

👉 Once any severe pain has passed, you can start physical therapy (about a dozen sessions) with passive rehabilitation (massages) if your muscle is very tense.

"Contrary to popular opinion, stretching the muscle is not recommended," says Alexandre Batz. He explains: "The area is too sensitive for active movement so passive rehabilitation is the better option."

It takes longer to heal a muscle tear, two to three months at least. "The Peace and Love protocol (an acronym that sets out rules for sprains, muscle damage and other sports injuries), established by La Clinique du Coureur should also be considered when treating traumatic injuries," says Alexandre.

Muscle strains: how to prevent and treat them

Peace and Love protocol

The "Peace" process happens immediately after an injury:

P = Protection (do not cause further pain during the first few days);
E = Elevation (elevate the affected limb higher than your heart as often as possible);
A = Avoid anti-inflammatories (anti-inflammatories are not recommended for this type of injury);
C = Compression (apply a stretchy bandage or ideally compression tape to reduce the initial swelling);
E = Educate (learn about your treatment options).
Then, you can start the “LOVE” phase.

L =  Load (progress on to weight-bearing and pain-free movement);
O = Optimism (stay confident and positive through the healing process);
V = Vascularisation (increase blood flow to the damaged tissue and increase your metabolism with cardiovascular activities);
E = Exercises (opt for active rehabilitation).

How to heal a muscle strain fast

You returned to the gym and finally had some motivation but now... Will you need to rest long? Don't worry, with some progressive, injury-specific physical therapy exercises, moderate sports activity will soon be in your grasp, and even recommended! In a few sessions (around 10), you can return to being an active athlete!

Speed up the healing process after a muscle tear

Keep in mind too that a healthy lifestyle is very important to the healing process, as well as prevention if you want to avoid reinjury: good hydration, restful sleep and a balanced diet all help rebuild and strengthen muscle fibres.

Exercising with a strained muscle

At first, you might be in too much pain to attempt any activity. The key is to take it slow! 
Although you should rest at first, you will be able to use your muscles again soon, at least in ways that aren't painful (train your muscles with pain-free exercises).

Can you drive with a strained calf?

It all depends on the intensity of your pain, your work and the calf involved! If you drive an automatic car and have a muscle strain in your left calf, your calf wouldn't be used much while driving. No matter the activity, the rule stays the same: it may "pull" a bit, you may feel a bit of discomfort, but under no circumstance should it feel like your pain is getting worse. Stop before it hurts! 😉

Getting back into sport after a muscle strain

After analysing your progress, your physical therapist will let you know when you can resume moderate physical activity. For example, you can get back into jogging by alternating between running and walking. Your return to sport should be progressive and you shouldn't ignore muscle strengthening exercises. They will help your muscle recover. In some cases, it can even replace your usual sport. 

Don't miss our tips for exercising with an injury.

Don't forget: injuries are signals sent by your body, so listen to them! In the meantime, you can find more sports-related advice in our dedicated article. Even injured, we'll stay by your side. 💪

Muscle strains: how to prevent and treat them


Sports writer

A runner in her post-partum era, I gave up splits to do some stroller jogging. An admirer of the unexpected abilities of the human body, I have one motto: curiosity drives passion!

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