Muscle tears happen for several reasons, to a number of degrees, and to just about anyone.
Healthy Directions is here to discuss everything you need to know, from how to prevent muscle tears and how to recover.
Some tears are rather mild, only causing minimal discomfort. Straining your neck by sleeping in a bad position is one example. But muscle tears can worsen and cause extreme pain, possibly causing permanent damage if untreated.
What Is a Muscle Tear?
A muscle tear is exactly what it sounds like. Muscles can be torn, and even split apart entirely, which is the worst-case scenario. We feel sore after going to the gym because our muscles are fairly sensitive, and a workout leads to small tears in the muscle tissues.
For example, a high-intensity workout with weighted barbell squats could leave you with sore hamstrings, quadriceps muscles, and calf muscles.
We can feel the effects of a muscle tearing, even with as little as 5% of a muscle’s fibers taking some form of damage.
A muscle strain injury is what we call a damaged muscle through the act of tearing. There are three different levels of damage (measured in grades, similar to the degree system used for burns) to look out for in a strain:
Strains with grade 1 damage are mild strains. This is when only 5% of the muscle fibers are affected. Symptoms usually include a simple soreness that may even be routine for some.
Stiff neck, leg, or arm muscles can occur after sleeping on them improperly, and abnormal post-workout pains can occur because of either improper technique or overworking.
With a grade 2 muscle pull, you might be feeling a lot more pain around the affected muscle area. The grade 2 strain can encroach upon half of the muscle being damaged, and in this case, you will notice more pain, swelling, and stiffness around the affected muscle tissue.
Grade 3 strains are severe strains. If something isn’t done to treat the tear immediately, the damage could be permanent, and you may never be able to use the muscle properly again.
These strains occur when more than half the muscle’s fibers are destroyed until the muscle fibers physically split apart and no longer connect. This could render a limb or any affected body musculature unusable for a period of time. The pain of a grade 3 strain is the most intense of the three grades, and the inevitable swelling follows the tear.
How Do You Prevent Muscle Tears?
Muscle tears, no matter the severity, are usually all caused by the same factors:
- Improper usage or positioning
- Overworking and exhausting the muscles, leading to muscle fatigue
- A severe accident that damages or even severs a muscle
Of course, there are various other contributors to the likelihood of a tear, such as pre-existing conditions, injuries, or even a person’s age.
If you are worried that an activity is likely to cause you discomfort or damage, it never hurts to see a physical therapist or doctor to determine which activities are good or bad for you. This, in itself, can be a preventative measure.
The number one way to prevent tearing a muscle is research. This means seeking external information from specialists, trustworthy websites, and physical therapists, but it also means listening to your internal information.
Bottom Line: Listening to your body.
If you are going to start an activity or workout, don’t forget to warm up, stretch, and ease in. These are great ways to treat your body and muscles with care. But what happens if you want to try something new? That’s when research comes in.
Feeling the burn is part of the process, but burning and hurting are different, and you need to watch out for the difference. Your body is telling you that you are doing something wrong.
Sometimes what hurts you might not hurt someone else, and vice versa. So, don’t forget to listen.
How Do I Help Treat a Tear?
Different tears will require different treatment methods, and more severe tears tend to have longer recovery periods.
Grade 1 strains take only one week to one month to heal properly. Grade 2 moves this duration up to many months, and it could even take you years to recuperate.
Lastly, grade 3 tears are guaranteed to take you years to recover, but as was mentioned, some damage could be permanent without proper and immediate attention.
Grade 1 and 2 tears follow a very simple method for the treatment called RICE. That stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
Rest gives your body the time it needs to repair itself, and it also prevents you from doing further damage to the injured muscle. Using cold packs on the affected area for 20 minutes every hour, every day can help soothe swelling and soreness until you feel the pain fade away.
You can also use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help reduce muscle soreness and pain. Grade 2 tears can take longer to heal and require you to apply ice consistently, but grade 2 injuries are treated the same way as grade 1.
Don’t forget to elevate the point of tear as much as possible, especially if you can manage it overnight. Pairing ice and elevation with the use of anti-inflammatory medications may bring you even more relief.
X-rays, surgery, and plenty of physical therapy are usually required for grade 3 tears. It’s possible that surgery will not be necessary, but cases vary for each individual. In any case, strict limitation or monitoring of physical activity is crucial, especially if the tears have impacted joints or tendons like those in the knee or thigh.
Medication is usually desirable at this grade, and even grade 2, to help alleviate the pain. Which medication works best for you is up to your doctor, but acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and other NSAIDs are available over the counter. Alternatively, your doctor may choose to give you prescription medicines, and any medications should be used alongside rest and ice packs for the best results.
The RICE method helps with just about any type of strain, but you should also remember its counterpart: HARM. The acronym stands for heat, alcohol, running, and massage, all of which can cause harm if you take part in them while nursing a torn muscle.
If you think you’ve strained a muscle and don’t have a doctor to confirm it yet, avoid these four things until you know what you are dealing with. A simple physical exam may be enough for a doctor to ensure a muscle strain, especially if the pain begins after contact sports like soccer or basketball.
We hope this information has been helpful to you as it is designed to keep you and others safe in the event of a strain.
Click here if you’d like to check out more information at Healthy Directions.
Muscle Strain | Harvard Health
When to Use Ice or Heat | Oregon Sports Medicine
Fixing a Torn Muscle | Center for Ortho Surgery