Everyone wants to seem like they’re tough. Most training regiments encourage the aspect of “push through the pain” and many will follow this credo a little too literally. Almost to the point where some people will cause serious injury or even aggravate existing ones in order to continue training.
The most common injury that we deal with in the martial arts (besides the occasional bloody nose or bruise) is pulled muscles (sometimes referred to as a “strained muscle”). This is what happens when any given muscle is overused, overstretched or torn. For the most part, these injuries are minor and will subside after a few days, provided the practitioner takes appropriate steps to help the injury heal. In some extreme cases however, the injury can become aggravated and require medical attention.
According to a post published by Harvard Health Publishing, doctors often classify pulled muscles under three categories:
- Grade I Strain: In this mild strain, only a few muscle fibres are stretched or torn. Although the injured muscle is tender and painful, it has normal strength;
- Grade II Strain: This is a moderate strain, with a greater number of injured fibres and more severe muscle pain and tenderness. There is also mild swelling, noticeable loss of strength and sometimes a bruise;
- Grade III Strain: This strain tears the muscle all the way through, sometimes causing a “pop” sensation as the muscle rips into two separate pieces or shears away from its tendon. Grade III strains are serious injuries that cause complete loss of muscle function, as well as considerable pain, swelling, tenderness and discolouration. Because Grade III strains usually cause a sharp break in the normal outline of the muscle, there may be an obvious “dent” or “gap” under the skin where the ripped pieces of muscle have come apart.
Pretty gross, right? I’ll admit to having dealt with Grade I and II strains, but I’ve never had a Grade III. The article goes on to explain that if you are suffering from a Grade I or Grade II strain, you should follow the RICE acronym:
- Rest the injured muscle (and take a temporary break from sports activities);
- Ice the injured area to reduce swelling;
- Compress the muscle with an elastic bandage;
- Elevate the injured area.
Some further recommendations may include taking some over-the-counter pain medications such as Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen. Here’s the article if you want to read the whole thing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/muscle-strain-a-to-z
Although the RICE acronym is accurate, there are a few points to bear in mind. First, although it is important to rest the injured muscle, you have to be cautious not to rest it for TOO long. Otherwise, it’ll heal up stiff and with reduced flexibility and movement. Light, mild stretches should be done as soon as the pain subsides in order to ensure the continued full use of the muscle. Icing to reduce swelling is important, but the average medical practitioner recommends icing for no longer than fifteen minutes at a time to prevent tissue damage.
Another detail that many people tend to forget about is that swelling is not only a normal part of a pulled muscle, but a necessary one. So while it’s okay to help REDUCE swelling, trying to eliminate it isn’t recommended. The big takeaway, and the hardest one for us old school martial artists, is to rest up and give the muscle time to heal. you aren’t doing yourself any favours by pushing the injury and aggravating it.
There’s plenty you can do to prevent pulled muscles. Start by ensuring you take the time to stretch and warm up properly prior to any workout. Increase the intensity of your workouts gradually and try not to stay static in the same position for prolonged periods of time. This tends to reduce flexibility and proper blood circulation, all of which can contribute to possible muscle strains. Think about times where you’ve worked at a desk for eight hours at a time; you should be getting up and stretching at least once every hour.
If anything unusual is noticed about the pulled muscled, be sure to seek treatment from your medical practitioner. And by “unusual”, I mean things like severe bruising, numbness, a “pop” sound at the time of the incident, complete loss of use of the affected muscle group or even if your symptoms don’t clear up after a few weeks.
Although it depends on how severe your pulled muscle may be, you might be able to return to full use after a few weeks at minimum, provided you take care of it. Severe strains may require months to heal and possibly even surgery.
Being “tough” and pushing through it definitely isn’t worth the potential possibility of aggravating an injury to the point where you’d require surgery. There’s no shame in taking a break and letting an injury heal. Your body will thank you for it. And depending on what sport you’re training at, there’s nothing saying you can’t continue a light training regiment, taking close care of the pulled muscle. ☯