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Strains

Definition

A strain refers to the stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon as a result of excessive pulling during physical activity. Tendons are bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the injury?

Most strains are caused by excessive physical activity. Some common causes of strains include the following:
  • falls
  • motor vehicle accidents
  • obesity or overweight
  • overstretching, such as during an exercise warm-up session
  • running on an uneven surface
  • sports injuries
  • work-related injuries, such as lifting injuries and repetitive stress injuries

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the injury?

An individual can lower the risk of strain by:
  • avoiding alcohol or drugs when driving, operating machinery, exercising, or playing sports
  • building muscles through a regular conditioning program
  • doing daily stretching exercises
  • eating a healthy diet, following the food guide pyramid
  • establishing an ergonomic workstation and using good body mechanics
  • following sports safety guidelines for children, adolescents, and adults
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • warming up before sports and planned exercise
  • wearing seat belts in all moving vehicles
  • wearing shoes or boots that fit well and are appropriate for the planned activity

Diagnosed

How is the injury recognized?

Diagnosis of a strain begins with a medical history and physical examination. Occasionally, X-rays may be ordered to rule out bone fractures.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the injury?

Apply the RICE technique: Rest, Ice, Compression and Immobilization, and Elevation.
  • Rest means to restrict movement and weight-bearing in the injured area. A splint can be used if necessary.
  • Ice refers to the application of an ice pack or cold compress to the affected area.
  • Compression involves placing a bandage lightly around the injured area to decrease swelling. Immobilization means to avoid unnecessary movement of the affected area, particularly weight-bearing activity.
  • Elevation means to keep the injured area raised above the heart if possible.
Medicines that reduce pain and inflammation, such as aspirin or ibuprofen (i.e., Advil, Motrin), may be taken. Aspirin should never be given to children 18 years of age or younger, since it is associated with a disorder known as Reye syndrome.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Pain medicines and anti-inflammatory medicines may cause stomach upset or allergic reaction.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the injury?

If a certain activity causes repeated muscle strains, a person should strengthen the muscles in a way that does not cause continual damage. A healthcare provider can recommend an exercise program or physical therapy. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.

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