Muscle strain (also known as a pulled muscle) is the most common sports-related injury; it occurs when muscle fibers are stretched beyond their capacity. If you want to stay in the game, here are five ways you can prevent muscle strains.
How to Prevent Muscle Strains
- Warm-up and stretch
You need to warm up and stretch before doing strenuous exercise if you want to prevent muscle strain. Jumping into an activity without preparing your body can be a shock to the system so be sure to limber up first.
- Use the proper equipment
You should select gear that fits well and is appropriate for the sport. You need to invest in a quality pair of shoes with ample cushioning and support.
If you’re wearing 10-year-old sneakers, then you’re putting yourself at greater risk of injury. For example, shin splints (muscle pain near the shin bones) can be caused by inadequate footwear.
- Choose the right conditions
Being selective about where and when you exercise affects the likelihood of a muscle strain. If possible, try to exercise on a padded surface and avoid running on pavement or uneven surfaces.
The weather is also a factor; if it’s rainy or snowy and the ground is slick, you’re more likely to slip and injure yourself.
- Learn how to play the sport correctly
Proper form prevents injuries, especially injuries caused by overuse. For example, tennis players can learn how to position themselves to lessen pressure put on the arm, which helps alleviate tennis elbow.
- Know your limits
Make sure you’re in proper condition for your chosen activity. If you haven’t been running in years, don’t think you can complete a marathon tomorrow. You need to gradually increase your activity and condition your muscles with regular exercise.
If you’ve tried to prevent injury but still experienced muscle strain, the following recommendations may help.
How to Treat Muscle Strains
- The RICE method
RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. The RICE method is the treatment traditionally recommended for muscle strain.
Rest: Don’t try to “play through the pain”. This can cause further injury. Your body needs rest in order to recover.
Ice: Cold therapy reduces pain, swelling, and inflammation in the injured area. It is recommended to apply ice to the site of the strain off and on for the first few days after injury.
Compression: Using an elastic bandage, air cast, or other means to put even pressure on the strain reduces inflammation and provides support to prevent further injury.
Elevation: Keeping the injured area elevated keeps fluid from pooling at the site of the injury and reduces swelling.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
Over-the-counter medications such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen help reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain. Be sure to follow the directions on the bottle, as overuse can cause undesirable side effects.
- Targeted pain relief
There are a variety of pain-relief patches and creams available on the market. These are applied directly to the site of the muscle strain to help alleviate soreness.
- Gentle stretching
After treating your injury for a couple of days, you should start to rebuild strength in the injured area by doing gentle stretches. This helps you regain mobility and will also prevents injuring the area in the future.
- Seek professional help
If the pain you’re experiencing is severe and does not improve after several days, you may want to see a doctor, especially if there are other symptoms such as numbness, fever, dizziness, etc.