Muscle strains occur more often during sports activities, especially those that involve forceful or jerking movements. However, improper lifting of weights at work or inappropriate carrying of your grocery supplies can cause muscle strains too. Often, muscle strains are mild and can be successfully treated at home. Follow these simple steps to treat muscle strains at home.
When you experience a minor muscle strain, try to follow RICE therapy as your first aid treatment for your strain. RICE is an acronym used by healthcare providers that stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Rest your injured body
- Pain is the most common symptom of a strained muscle. When you feel pain or discomfort in your muscle, especially after a strenuous activity, your body is trying to tell you that something is wrong.
- Stop your activity that you think that caused your strain. For example, stop lifting heavy loads, throwing baseball, or running. Try to rest your injured body part.
- During the first few days following your injury, try to avoid doing things that can make your symptoms worse.
- If you are able to move your injured limb at a point where it does not cause pain, do it. This is to avoid stiffening of your muscle and joint.
- As you rest, apply ice.
While you rest, apply a cold pack immediately to help relieve your pain and swelling, if present. If you are going to use an ice pack, wrap it in a damp clean towel and apply over your injured body part for about 15 to 20 minutes only. Avoid direct contact of pack with your skin, especially for extended periods as there is a danger of frostbite injury.
If you don’t have a commercial cold pack, you can use crushed ice placed in a plastic bag and wrap with a damp towel with application time the same as above.
You may also prefer to do an ice massage.
- If you already have frozen water in a styrofoam cup, remove the lower part of the cup to expose the ice. This will help keep the ice from slipping out of the cup.
- Rub ice on the skin over your injured body part in a circular manner. Do not put pressure when rubbing. Keep doing this until the area is numb, usually in about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Have an extra towel with you to wipe off dripping water.
You can do ice application every two to three hours for the first two to three days following your injury.
Note: When doing ice massage, avoid keeping a steady contact of ice with skin. This means that you should continuously move ice over your injured body part and not just keeping the ice in one spot. Stop when you no longer feel pain or the area is already numb.
Wrap your injured limb with a compression bandage, starting from the area lower to the injured area and wrap moving upward in a spiral manner. Make sure NOT to wrap too tightly such that blood flow is impeded. Do not apply compression bandaging on your neck for obvious reasons.
Compressing the injured area of your limb can help reduce or prevent swelling.
If you are unsure of how to do bandaging properly, you can skip this part to be safe. If you want, you can ask a physical therapist or a healthcare professional to teach you how to do it properly.
Elevate your injured limb higher than the level of your heart using a pillow. Try to do this while lying down. Like using compression bandage, elevating your limb can help minimize or, also, prevent swelling.
Things to consider when doing RICE therapy
RICE therapy can be an effective tool for treating or curing minor muscle strains. However, there are some cases where RICE or especially ice application may not be advisable to use (see Cold therapy contraindications).
If you have another health problem, be sure to check first with your healthcare provider whether doing RICE therapy is right for you or not.
Do not apply ice if you have an open wound, infection, or rashes in that specific area where you have muscle strain. Better check first with your healthcare provider.
RICE therapy is effective for treating acute muscle injuries. When we say acute injury, this means an immediate injury with symptoms usually appearing immediately or within 24 hours. Often, acute muscle strains cause pain and swelling, wherein RICE treatment is often advised.
Seek immediate medical attention if
- You have severe symptoms, such as excruciating pain and severe swelling.
- You suspect that you have broken a bone.
- Your symptoms do not improve or worsen even after applying RICE therapy.
- You are unsure of the severity of your injury.
Please remember that RICE therapy is not an absolute muscle strain cure. As your injured muscle heals, you still have to perform exercises to make your muscles become flexible and strong. The exercises that you are going to perform will depend on the type of muscle strain that you have.
Though I’m not going to discuss about the exercises here, I would suggest that you consult your physical therapist for specific exercises that you can perform. You will learn many exercises including how to do them properly from your personal PT. He or she will also be teaching you strategies to prevent future muscle strains.
Suggested Muscle Strain Topics
- Physical Therapy for Muscle Strain – Learn about how physical therapy can help with your muscle strain.
- All About Pulled Muscles – Pulled muscles is another term for muscle strains. More general discussions with links to specific pulled muscles information.
- Specific Types of Muscle Strain
- Abdominal Strains – Muscle strain occurring in any of the abdominal muscles.
- Calf Strain – An brief overview of calf strain.
- Groin Strains – This is a patient guide to groin strains.
- Hamstring Strain – Common injury to any of the hamstring muscles at the back of the thigh.
- Hip Flexor Strains – A brief discussion of hip flexor strains.
- Low Back Strain – A common back injury mostly associated with improper lifting techniques.
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