Muscle strains happen when a muscle is pushed beyond it capacity and the muscle fibers start to tear. You will know it is a strain when lifting something, moving something or just moving the wrong way. It is that moment that you get when doing something where you can feel the immediate localized pain.
People often confuse muscle strains and call them muscle sprains. Sprains happen to ligaments which connect bone to bone. When you sprain your ankle you are tearing the ligaments that hold the bones together and hold them in place while the muscles around them make the ankle and foot move.
A muscle can be strained from asking it to do too much beyond what it is capable of. When you are doing something which takes the muscle beyond what it is able to do- the fibers have no choice but to tear. Having a muscle that is tight also increases your risk of straining a muscle as it has less range of motion to do what you are telling it to do.
Muscle strains are often confused with the pain of having muscle knots which are also known as trigger points. A muscle strain will be something that happens and is accompanied with immediate pain. It isn't something that you just wake up with typically or that you get over a period of a few weeks. It will often be red and inflamed or puffy looking. It will feel weak to use or move.
The first thing to do when something like this happens is to apply ICE not heat as some like to do. Ice is necessary to relieve the inflammation.
Massage can help in the healing of strains by reducing the inflammation and helping with the scar tissue formation process by circulating fresh nutrients to the area. When a muscle is strained, the tearing of the fibers will need to heal back together. They will heal better when minimum pressure is applied to the fibers as they heal to reduce the buildup of scar tissue. If you have an old injury you will often feel this spot of scar tissue when the muscle gets tight or you are under a lot of stress.
There are three grades of muscle strain: first degree or mild, second degree or moderate, and third degree or severe.
Level One- 1-50% tear of the fibers, can hold resistance, and may be painful, some swelling but little to no loss of function. Usually returns to normal activity quickly.
Level 2- 50-99% fiber tear, can't hold against resistance, may hold against gravity, pain, edema (retaining of fluids), swelling and muscle guarding.
Level 3 -100% fiber tear, usually heard snap at time of injury, no resistance possible, pain may be present at site, compensational pain present but can be minimal afterwards because of complete separation, Needs physicians attention immediately.
Third-degree strains generally require surgical repair. In some instances, surgery is not performed because the muscle does not play a crucial role and the potential dangers of surgery outweigh the benefits. Ruptures to the rectus femoris are an example because the other three quadriceps muscles make up for the strength deficit caused by the strain.
Whitney Lowe, a teacher of orthopedic massage says this about muscle strains:
The muscles most susceptible to strain injuries are multi-articulate muscles, which are those that cross more than one joint. The more joints crossed by a muscle, the greater is their vulnerability for strain injury.
All involved joints cannot achieve full range of motion at the same time due to limited extensibility of the muscle tendon unit. If the muscle is stretched across multiple joints at the same time, it's more susceptible to tearing from excess tensile stress.
Getting regular massage can reduce excess tension that can create extra stress and an increased risk of straining a muscle. This can be helpful for weekend gardeners and hikers as well as professional and amateur athletes.