In an age where we sit most hours of the day, depend on our technology for work and personal communications, there's a greater risk for muscle strains than in the past. Ironically, muscle strains are common among those with high amounts of weekly exercise and those with little to no amount of weekly exercise. Strains in the active group are mostly due from overuse of a certain muscle group that's given an insufficient amount of time for recovery between exercises. The latter group is prone to muscle pulls and strains from lack of regular exercise.

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There’s only so much we can do to combat the stress that our lifestyles put on our body, specifcally during work hours. It just takes a few tweaks to engage ourselves in a healthier, smarter lifestyle. The small changes you can do add up to a remarkable difference in reduced stress and strain previously exerted through old habits from lack of physical movement and poor posture, two common facilitators of muscle strain.

But before we jump into the ways of preventing types of muscle strains, let’s take a look at the common causes of muscle strains and the symptoms that follow.

The cause of every muscle strain is defined by a traumatic tearing of the muscle tissue, usually where the muscle and tendons meet. The more muscle fibers that are torn, the worse the strain will be. Muscles can tear under the force of your own muscular contraction, or excessive stretch.

An acute muscle strain is when muscles tear suddenly and unexpectedly. Acute tears can be from improper warmup before exercise, poor flexibility or conditioning, and overexertion and fatigue. Acute strains can happen from high intensity exercise but also from lighter activity like losing your footing, jumping, throwing something and lifting something with the wrong body positioning.

Chronic muscle strains result from moving your muscles in a continuous cycle during times like playing tennis, golf, sitting at your desk holding your neck or back in stiff positions for long periods and keeping bad posture.

Other forms of injury that often get confused with muscle strains are muscle spasms and cramps, muscle knots-aka trigger points-delayed onset of muscle soreness and low back pain. Symptoms of a muscle strain will most likely be felt at the onset of the injury, as soon as it occurs.

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Common locations where muscle strains occur are the hamstrings, the rectus femoris (smallest of the quads group, on top of the thigh), gastrocnemius (the muscle that gives the calf its shape), the thick columns of muscle on either side of the lumbar spine, and the biceps. A strain is possible in any muscle but most common are those big muscles used for explosive and intense effort.

Not all muscle strains can be prevented, but the following suggestions listed below can lower the risk for experiencing sudden muscle strain injuries.

  • Daily stretching helps keep muscle fibers flexible and “ready” for those odd jobs of lifting heavy equipment at work.

  • Stretching before exercising.

  • Engaging in a pre-exercise warm-up that gradually leads your body into the challenging part of the workout.

  • Visiting a physical therapist for a customized fitness regime tailored to suit your physical needs.

Fortunately, most acute muscle strains can be treated at home with a simple formula that consists of rest, ice, compression and elevation, the RICE method. Follow these steps to properly treat muscle strains. Remember if you aren’t sure of your type of injury, getting a proper diagnosis will guarantee you a complete recovery by targeting with the appropriate treatment.

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Correct treatment and following the suggested route for acute muscle strain will get you back to complete recovery usually within three to six weeks for most minor strains.

Originally published in Kenner Star monthly community newspaper, March 2018, Vol. 27, No. 3.