There are many ways to injure your muscles. Tears, or pulled muscles, are usually graded with three distinctions. A first degree injury involves a small portion of the muscle and these mild strains should heal pretty easily. A second degree tear involves more of the muscle getting injured but a third degree tear can pull a muscle completely off of its tendon or bony attachment. This is the type of tear you see when a runner pulls up lame in full sprint.
Injuries happen for all sorts of reasons. Reciprocal inhibition refers to the relationship of two opposite muscles and very often a dysfunction in this innate action results in a pulled muscle. When one muscle engages its opposite should lengthen and relax. When this doesn’t happen we get a muscle spasm that can ultimately result in injury. This type of injury is the result of an action gone wrong ending with a pulled muscle or worse and is different from blunt force trauma that is another way to injure muscles. Whether in a car accident or a sports related collision, the impact can bruise or tear the muscle in a painful way.
Understanding how to heal muscle strains and pulls is very important. Your classic approach is RICE:
I am not opposed to this protocol though I will admit to rarely following it. This issue with all injuries relates to swelling and all of the RICE techniques are geared towards reducing swelling. Once that is accomplished you can go about your life as before as you heal your body.
There is a difference between how you heal ligament and muscle injuries. Ligament injuries require total rest of the ligament as it heals to its natural tone. Working an injured ligament might actually feel good while you are doing it but will hamper the healing process. A injured muscle on the other hand can be worked through. Warming it up and stretching it will help the healing process but it is key that you don’t tweak the injury while stretching it and working it.
This makes things a little more complicated. Every time you feel the tweak of an injury you are re-injuring it. If you work through a muscle pull without tweaking it repeatedly it will heal quickly and successfully. Inflammation of the bursas are yet another wrinkle in the ointment.
I’ll save the story of tearing my hamstring completely off of its attachment (like the picture above) and the five year healing process that ensued for another post.