What is a Strain Injury?

Posted on July 17th, 2019 by Orthopaedic Specialty Group

A strain is defined as an injury to a tendon (tissues that connect your muscles and bones) or muscle. Strains can range from mild to extreme; and may mean your tendon or muscle has a partial or complete tear.

Muscle strains are graded from mild to severe:

  • Grade 1 (mild strain): the muscle is overstretched and there are small tears in the fibers; pain is mild, but swelling may be present.
  • Grade 2 (moderate strain): the muscle or its tendon is overstretched and several of the fibers are torn. There is no complete tear in the muscle, but moderate pain and swelling may be accompanied by tenderness, bruising, and limited mobility.
  • Grade 3 (severe strain): Often a “pop” sensation occurs during injury. Most of the muscle fibers are torn or there is a complete tear in the muscle. Pain, bruising, tenderness, swelling, and limited mobility are typically present. There may be a “dent” or “gap”

What Causes a Strain?

A strain occurs when an individual puts excessive pressure on the muscles while carrying on with normal daily activities such as working, lifting heavy objects, or playing sports. Additionally, overweight patients are also at a higher risk for strains.

Popular Areas for Sprains

Common areas of your body for strains include:

  • Back
  • Legs (especially your quadriceps and hamstrings)
  • Elbow (typically most present in athletes who play tennis or golf)

Strains v. Sprains

Strains and sprains not only sound similar, but they also have similar symptoms, making it difficult to distinguish between the two. The most important difference between strains and sprains is that they affect different body parts. 

Strains, as we mentioned, involve an injury to your tendons or muscles. sprains, on the other hand, refer to an injury to your ligaments. Ligaments are thick, fibrous tissues that connect your bones to other bones in your body, differing from tendons. When a ligament is sprained, these tissues are stretched or torn.

How Do I Treat a Strain?

Strains may be treated at home following the RICE method:

Rest: Stay off your feet and avoid excessive physical activities that would put pressure on the strained area.

Ice: Apply ice every two-to-three hours for about 20 minutes at a time.

Compression: You can reduce swelling by wrapping the affected area with a stretchy compression bandage.

Elevation: raise the injured area above your chest level, when possible.

When to contact your doctor

However, if your symptoms do not reduce with the RICE method, it may be time to see a doctor. Consult with your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Fever or chills
  • Pain and swelling do not reduce; they worsen
  • The affected area looks misshapen
  • Experiencing tingling or numbness in the area that is sprained

Your doctor will be able to perform a physical exam to determine how to treat your sprain, and if surgery is needed in the case of a complete tear. At Orthopaedic Specialty Group, we offer a wide variety of treatments to help our patients deal with mild to severe strains, chronic pain, sports injuries, and more. Contact us today to schedule your appointment (203) 337-2600!