How do I fix a sports related muscle injury/pull/strain?

It is important to know that your body has the natural ability to heal itself from a muscle injury, with moderate strains taking around 3-4 weeks before returning to the field, and to up to 12 months to fully resolve. However, there is a big difference in the outcome of strength, tissue quality and readiness to return to play between actively rehabilitated muscle injuries and rested muscle injuries.
The addition of a progressive loading program for muscle strains in athletes looking to return to the field is critical for regaining pre injury level strength, function, and ability. Loading an injured muscle progressively will also decrease the likelihood of repeated strain to the muscle.

What is a pulled muscle?
A pulled muscle is called a muscle strain, this means that there are fibres of the muscle that have been injured. Most muscle strain injuries are very small, around a few millimetres wide, but in more serious cases can be larger. You are more likely to pull a muscle when the muscle has been fatigued previously, when the muscle is not warmed up properly before movement, and if the muscle cannot handle the stress of the movement.

When do pulled muscles happen in sport?
In sporting efforts, muscle injuries are normally done when considerable effort and loading is required of the muscle in compromising positions. Take an AFL football player for example, accelerating and decelerating from full pace while weaving in and out of packs plus bending to pick up the ball.

How long does a pulled muscle take to heal?
As mentioned above a pulled muscle can take between 3 – 4 weeks to lay down the scar tissue in muscle injuries. If actively rehabilitated this will coincide with returning to training and looking at returning to play depending on the muscle injury. It is important to know that the healing process within the muscle can last for more than 12 months to fully heal. This is depending on the size of the muscle strain. This does not necessarily mean you will experience pain throughout the healing process. This is why it is important that the rehabilitation of muscle injuries extends past the return to play period as you will be playing on a muscle that is still healing.

How do you reduce pain from a pulled muscle, and regain previous strength after a pulled muscle?
To heal and return to your previous strength the fastest, specific loading by exercises should be completed as soon as possible. Depending on your ability to use the muscle and how much pain you are experiencing, different levels of loading exercises should be applied. Having a therapist you trust to assess your injury and provide you with a specific plan is important to offer you the specific advice you will need for your specific injury. There will also be a process of gradual return to training activities and activities required during play of your sport. In some cases, beginning exercises early can cut the recovery and return to activity / sport time in half.

How do you stop a muscle from being pulled?
Reducing the risk factors mentioned earlier will reduce the risk of injury. This includes reducing the build-up of both physical and mental fatigue. This will mean mapping out training properly and looking at lifestyle factors like sleep. Having a proper warm up sequence of exercises. These need to be specific to your sporting requirements. Lastly making sure the muscle is strong enough to handle the requirements of your sport. This will require general and specific ongoing loading programs in addition to sports training.

There is no 100 % guaranteed way of stopping a muscle from being pulled, but you can focus your energy on reducing your risk of injury. Preventative training, or ‘prehab’, is common place in many professional sporting leagues as it can prevent the occurrence of a pulling a hamstring by up to 50%. This has been proven with high level evidence for hamstrings strains and this information can be generalised for other muscles.

Written by:
Ryan Michell
Physiotherapist
Proactive Health & Movement

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