A muscle pull, also known as a muscle strain, is a stretching, tearing, or rupturing of muscle fibers. The tear occurs either in the middle of the muscle belly or in the tendon that connects the muscle to bone.
Since tendons are much stronger than muscles, the most common area for a strain to occur is at the musculotendinous joint, where the muscle connects to the tendon. This is also the area where the muscle is the smallest, which makes easily damaged.
Muscle strains rarely occur in the middle of a muscle belly, where the muscle is largest. You will rarely strain your biceps in the middle of your arm. It will usually happen close to the elbow or close to the shoulder joint.
Why Does it Happen?
A muscle strain is an injury that is caused by extreme forces on the muscle. This tension can be the result of the muscle stretching beyond its limits, which happens when an athlete slips or over-reaches, causing the muscle to go beyond its normal range of motion.
The second cause of muscle strain is when the muscle contracts too much under a load. This can happen when an athlete has too much weight to lift, or if the athlete contracts a muscle too fast when jumping or throwing.
The risk of muscle strain is highest during contact sports like football and hockey, and also in sports that involve rapid starts and stops. You can still strain a muscle while performing activities of daily living if you aren’t careful enough. Any movement that is too heavy or too quick can put you at risk.
Are There Different Types of Muscle Strains?
Doctors classify strains in degrees of severity. Each degree depends on how much muscle fiber damage has taken place. First-degree strains are accompanied by mild pain, but no other symptoms. Second-degree strains have both pain and weakness, which lead to loss of function. If the muscle tissue is visibly damaged to where there is bruising, then it is a third-degree muscle strain.
Prevention of muscle strains begins by warming up. Some of the causes of muscle strains are overload and over-extension. The risk of overload increases as the strength of a muscle decreases. Similarly, the risk of over-extension rises as the flexibility of a muscle decreases.
Having above average strength allows the athlete to control their movements, reducing the risk of strain. Also, it ensures that any of the sport specific movements will not be beyond the strength of the muscle.
In addition to working out your major muscle groups, one can mimic sport specific movements with added resistance to get stronger. To bring this idea closer to home, athletes could use weighted rackets, balls, or ankle/wrist weights.
Good flexibility also ensures that all the sport specific movements are within a good range of motion. This ensures that the risk of over-extension is minimized. A second benefit is that using sport specific movements on less used muscles can increase strength. The muscles of the human body contract more forcefully and quickly when their range is not near the limits of the muscle’s range of motion.
The most critical step in prevention is warming up. Think of your muscles like a rubber band: a cold rubber band will likely tear or break when pulled forcefully or rapidly, whereas a warm rubber band will stretch much further before breaking. The same principle applies to the muscles of your body. A full warm-up raises the muscle’s temperature a couple of degrees, just enough to make it easier to move.
During activity, the risk of muscle strain can be reduced by staying hydrated. Longer endurance sports or those that take place outdoors in the heat will require more carbs and electrolytes, in addition to rehydration. Most sports drinks along with plenty of water will usually be enough to get the job done. Be loose, stay hydrated and have fun!