One of the most common musculoskeletal injuries is a muscle strain, which results in some degree of a tear to the muscle. This may seem like a minor injury that will fix itself, but often, the injury to the muscle is the tip of the iceberg. If treated alone, without addressing the rest of the “iceberg,” it can result in longer healing time, improper healing, or scarring down, which just leads to more problems and pain to nearby muscles, joints, and nerves.
How can a muscle strain occur?
The mechanisms for how it happens are multifaceted. Typically, these include repetitive, high levels of stress to the muscle, excessive force exerted through the muscle, tightness or weakness of the muscle or surrounding secondary musculature, and improper body mechanics. Overtraining in any one sport can cause a strain, as can lifting too much weight, or playing in too many games without stretching adequately.
How is it usually treated?
Many times these injuries are treated with pain and anti-inflammatory medications alone. They can reduce pain and the muscle will slowly begin to repair itself with scar tissue, but the problem is not truly resolved. Because the strain may have occurred as a result of muscle imbalances, there is an environment for the injured muscle to fail again once activity is resumed. Furthermore, tightness from scar tissue can create a reduction in flexibility that can cause injuries to additional areas of the body and create a potential for tension in the underlying nerves. In turn, this leads to chronic pain and multiple problems.
How can proper physical therapy treatment help?
A comprehensive physical therapy evaluation will take into account the flexibility and strength of the injured muscle in addition to the surrounding areas. Additionally, a licensed physical therapist can perform a movement screen (observe you walking and moving around) to help determine limitations in joint motion, compensations of the body that avoid use of the injured area, and the potential for nerve problems. The therapist will then use the findings to design a specific treatment plan to address not only the strained muscle, but the surrounding problem areas as well, which will help the muscle to heal properly, quickly, and help eliminate the potential for re-injury.