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24 February 2011 ~ 3 Comments

Muscle strains + sprains

In the previous “How To” post we talked about the six different techniques covered so far on this site (foam roller, cross friction, trigger point, active and joint mobilizations, and stretching). We reviewed the techniques and also briefly talked about what kind of injuries each technique was best suited for. In this post, we’re going to talk specifically about muscle sprains and strains. To get started, lets review the different levels used to grade the severity of the injury.

Muscle Sprain/Strain Grading Scale:

Grade 1 (mild)- symptoms include pain, stiffness, and minor swelling. Joint motion is typically normal. In other words, you can move the injured area, but it hurts to do so.

Grade 2 (moderate)- in addition to pain and stiffness, likely to observe bruising and increased swelling. Joint motion will be limited. It is also normal to experience muscle spasms at this grade.

Grade 3 (severe)- noticeable swelling and bruising are present. Pain is sharp and occurs while at rest. Will be unable to contract the injured muscle.

**NOTE: when in doubt or you suspect a grade 2 or 3- see a doctor. Other symptoms that = see doctor include numbness, tingling, and instability/giving way of the leg when standing up or walking.**

Managing Muscle Injuries:

Step 1- Traditional R.I.C.E. treatment:

Rest: This may sound obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway. An injured muscle/joint will require a decreased activity level to fully heal. The severity of the injury will determine if this is a full rest or more of an active recovery.

Ice: while heat may feel better on stiff and sore muscles, ice only during the first 7 days following injury. This will help to decrease swelling, inflammation and pain. 10-15 minutes is sufficient and you can perform every hour as needed. Avoid direct ice to skin contact.

Compression: thanks to the recent explosion of compression sleeves, tights, shorts, etc, you have several options in this department. Ideally you want something that is snug without being uncomfortably tight (think recovery tights if you’ve ever worn them). You can also use a store brought ace wrap to accomplish this. Start the wrap below the injury using good tension on the bandage and move up above the injury. This will help keep swelling from moving down the leg.

Elevation: This is critical in the early days following acute injury where swelling may be present. In the case of an ankle injury for example, elevate the leg so that it is above chest level. This can be accomplished by laying down and propping for your foot up on the arm of the couch with pillows.

Step 2- Self Treatment Options:

When a new muscle injury occurs, the first and most important goal is always to decrease pain and any swelling that may be present. In other words, we want to decrease inflammation. That means ice is mandatory. Absolutely no heat no matter how good it feels. Even if it only hurts to run or swim and feels fine the rest of the day, you still need to be icing minimum 3x/day. 10 minutes and done. Don’t short cut this stuff. It’s boring but it works, especially if your symptoms worsen as the day goes. It’s now easier than ever to smuggle an ice pack into the office fridge and wear compression gear under your dress clothes. Use that to your advantage when working to heal an injury! :)

The second goal is going to be to loosen up the injured area. Below I have the treatment techniques set up in levels. As a rule, you must be able to complete #1 without pain to progress to the next level. Be smart! Healing a muscle sprain/strain isn’t about no pain, no gain. The muscle needs to heal! Don’t overdo it in an attempt to speed up your recovery. :)

1) R.I.C.E. + gentle stretching. There should be no pain with stretching.

2) Begin using the foam roller AROUND the injured area. The goal here is to start getting slack into the muscle without aggravating the injury itself. No tennis ball work or active/joint mobilizations. The order should be foam roll around injury -> stretch -> RICE.

3) Begin using the foam roller over the injured area to tolerance. The order should be foam roll around injury-> over injury -> stretch -> RICE.

4) Begin using the tennis ball for active mobilizations. The order should be foam roll around injury -> over injury -> active mobilization with the tennis ball -> stretch -> RICE.

5) Begin using the tennis ball for cross friction + trigger point. These are the deepest of the soft tissue techniques so you want to save them for last to target specific adhesions and restrictions. Consider this your fine tuning step.

How long do you need to R.I.C.E for??? Until it’s 100% gone.

Step 3: Training Modification Tips

More often than not, the first question I get is not- what do I do to get this better? It’s what can I do while I get this better? To answer this question, I put together a chart that will help you grade the severity of your injury based on your symptoms, make appropriate training modifications, and determine what course of action is best in terms of medical treatment. Think of it like a giant thermometer. The higher up you move on the chart, the more important action is and the more likely your training and racing will take a hit.

***I can’t stress this enough- use common sense when using this chart. This is not all encompassing and it is not designed to keep you from your healthcare team. If you are experiencing symp- toms like numbness/tingling, swelling, scary dark/purple bruising,inability to stand/weight bear, lift your arm over your head, etc please call your Doctor.***

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3 Responses to “Muscle strains + sprains”

  1. Randolph J Sablich 24 February 2011 at 9:10 am Permalink

    Awesome chart and great suggestions. As athletes or even just work out addicts, we can often sprain or strain a muscle or muscle group even though we have done that exercise hundreds of times before without incident. As we grow older, and our diets change, our bodies become more susceptible to injury.
    Your advice is sound and helpful as always.

  2. Yvette 6 March 2011 at 1:37 pm Permalink

    This chart was very helpful. I am dealing with what I believe to be a gluteal medial injury where it attaches to the IC for months. Chiro advised to stop all exercise…massage and ultrasound tech advised to still exercise - just not as hard. I find myself to be in the #2 range so I feel more comfortable now moving forward with the later advice. Do you know how long it takes for this type of injury to heal and is there anything I need to look out for?

  3. Leigh 6 March 2011 at 4:06 pm Permalink

    The key is to stay after it. Work on loosening up the area (glute med + IT Band) that is injured as well as the opposing area (adductors + inner hamstrings). Follow it up with stretching and repeat every day if needed. Monitor your workouts and it shouldn’t be long at all. :)

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