George came to see me with a very unhappy hamstring. It had gone pop whilst playing football. And the pain? Excruciating. George had to stop playing and hobble off. Over the next few days he struggled as best as he could. The bruising was spectacular. It was all over the back of his upper leg and he just couldn’t get comfortable let alone straighten his leg fully. George made do for a week and then decided to get in touch.
Muscle strains occur when the muscle fibres can’t cope with the demands being placed on them. This leads to tearing of these fibres, often when the muscle is fully extended and you are just starting to contract it. There are different grades of strain. They start at mild with only few muscle fibres impacted: these just feel a little tender the next day. At the other end of the spectrum, there are complete ruptures of the muscle and a surgical intervention is needed.
Having personally experienced a Grade II, it is not something I wish to experience again. The pain is debilitating and it takes time to recover.
During the first few days of a muscle strain, there are some simple steps you can take to help promote recovery:
- Protect the area to prevent additional damage
- Rest to help speed up the healing process and prevent further injury
- Ice it. Well this one is a little controversial now, but if you like to use ice, make sure you wrap it in a towel to stop any skin burns and also remove from the skin after 20 mins
- Compression to reduce the swelling (but be careful NOT to cut off blood supply)
- Elevate to support the blood return into circulation
It takes time for tissues to heal after a strain. The body needs time to put in place the building blocks for replacement tissues. So in the early stages rest and good nutrition will make a big difference. As the healing progresses, restoring a pain free full range of movement is critical. But this has to be undertaken with care as the new tissues are easily damaged. Then in time, a full strengthening programme is important to make sure that the injury does not reoccur, but also to make sure that the issues that caused the injury in the first place are tackled.
In George’s case? Well they are now busy focusing on their eccentric strength and are working hard on maintaining their cardiovascular fitness so that when we are ready to return them to their sport they are “bullet proof”.