What Happens When You Over Strain a Muscle?

A muscle strain can be seriously painful in some cases, while in other instances, the you might be able to manage the pain and you may not even notice that damage has been done. Discover more about what happens when you overstrain a muscle and why you need to treat a strained muscle with care.

Understanding a Muscle Strain

A muscle strain is basically a rupture or a tear of the soft tissue within your skeletal muscles — the organs that provide strength, power, and stability to your musculoskeletal system. This immediately makes a strain different from something like a sprain. A sprain is a rupture of a ligament, i.e. damage to the connective tissue that joins bones with other bones. 

While muscle strains may occur across an array of different areas — from calves and thighs to your biceps and chest — sprains occur almost exclusively in joints. This is because joints, such as the wrists, knees, and ankles, are found at points where two or more bones meet and are held together by ligaments, while the main muscles are found away from the joints.

You can strain a tendon, too, which refers to damage to the connective tissue joining muscles with bones. Ruptures of the Achilles tendon between the foot and knee, or hamstrings between the knee and hip, are common. However, we’re going to be focusing on strains that occur specifically in the muscle.

What Happens If You Over Strain a Muscle?

There are two fundamental ways to overstrain a muscle:

  1. Placing high amounts of stress on the muscle over a long period of time — a chronic strain.
  2. Placing a high amount of stress on the muscle suddenly — an acute strain.

In both of these instances, the same thing is happening. The muscle fibers have to stretch to provide power and support for the musculoskeletal system. In the event of a strain, they are stretched too far, extending beyond their safe capacity and leading to a rupture or tear in the tissue itself. 

An acute strain might occur because the muscle is not properly warmed up ahead of exertion, or if an unexpectedly high load is placed on it. A chronic strain might occur because the frequency or duration of intense activity is increased beyond normal levels, resulting in a small tear that grows more severe over time.

Recognizing a Severe Muscle Strain

Some degree of tearing is normal for muscles. During exercise, muscles often develop tiny ruptures known as micro-tears, resulting in that familiar post-workout soreness. However, a muscle strain generally involves a larger tear and can be debilitating for the sufferer.

Muscle strains are defined by three categories:

  • The mildest form of strain is a first-degree strain. This may cause tenderness or low level pain, which grows worse as the muscle is flexed.
  • The next form of strain is a second-degree strain. You may notice swelling around the muscle or even an indentation where the tear has occurred. You will find it difficult to move the area and use the muscle due to pain.
  • The most severe form of strain is a third-degree strain. It will be almost impossible to move the affected area, and there may be severe levels of pain. In some cases, however, an especially severe strain might result in no pain in the immediate aftermath.

This information is intended to serve as a guide as you recognize the severity of your strain. It’s not a substitute for medical attention or professional advice. If you think you have strained a muscle and the issue is not going away, seek medical evaluation.

Give Muscle Strains the Attention They Deserve

If you have a regular exercise routine or simply a busy life, it’s tempting to ignore a muscle strain. Milder strains may not feel too bad, and you may feel able to keep on exercising and moving about, albeit with a limited range of movement. This is generally a mistake.

A strained muscle needs time to heal. Depending on the severity, it may take anywhere between three weeks and several months to heal completely. Continuing to use your injured muscle means putting more pressure and stress on the strained area — this weakened area is not going to be able to cope, and the strain will worsen.

P.R.I.C.E. is a good acronym to bear in mind while you allow your muscle to heal.

  • Protection — Remove all stress, strain, or impact from the muscle.
  • Rest — Give the muscle time to recuperate.
  • Ice — Reduce swelling by cooling the injured area with ice.
  • Compression — Bandage the muscle and compress to accelerate healing.
  • Elevation — Try to keep the injured muscle above the level of your heart during healing.

Remember, if you have any uncertainties or concerns, consult a medical professional or rehab specialist without delay.

Overcome Muscle Strains Safely and Effectively with Carolinas Pain Center

Here at Carolinas Pain Center, we provide expert treatment and rehabilitation services for anyone suffering from a muscle strain or other similar injury. Reach out today to book your appointment or to chat with a member of our team.