Muscle stretching: What to do when you suffer from the classic ‘pull’
Muscle injuries are the most common type of injury in an athlete. In this article we want to focus on muscle elongation or muscle pull, the mildest muscle type injury, a priori.
Muscle strain is the famous “pull”. As Dr Sarwar, physiotherapist in Delhi, explains, it occurs when the muscle is stretched “beyond its possibilities”. It is usually considered the previous step to a muscle rupture and is considered a minor injury. “It is the most benign of muscle injuries,” says Dr Sarwar, physiotherapy doctor in Delhi.
What is muscle stretching
Elongation occurs as a result of eccentric muscle contraction at the two ends of the muscle. It normally occurs in polyarticular muscles, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings. The fundamental difference with the break is that in the elongation the fiber does not break, or a minimal break occurs. “The rupture produces a hematoma, which takes longer to reabsorb and always leaves a scar, larger or smaller”, explains the physiotherapist in Dwarka. In contrast, stretching does not leave a scar, so the muscle does not lose functionality.
“It always occurs as a function of muscular overloads and imbalances “, illustrates the doctor. There are very characteristic examples. For example, in a short race: the explosive contraction of the quadriceps can produce an excessive lengthening of the hamstring. In soccer players it can occur when hitting the ball with force, which produces a sudden stretching of the posterior thigh muscles.
The sport most affected by muscle strain or pull is precisely football. “It generally occurs in the hamstring,” explains the best physiotherapist in Dwarka, “followed by the rectus femoris, the adductors, and the twins.”
When does a pulled muscle occur?
The elongation has several characteristics:
- It occurs as a consequence of physical activity. It does not appear at rest but is the consequence of an eccentric contraction that is a little stronger than usual.
- It usually appears when the muscles have not been properly warmed up.
- Sometimes it occurs when explosive work is required of a previously excessively fatigued muscle. It is more frequent in the first phase of the season, when few training sessions have been carried out, or at the end, when fatigue accumulates.
- External factors may influence. The case of excessive heat, humidity, a change in food or hydration defects do not help.
Symptoms of muscle strain are mild. The pain is usually diffuse, so that it is difficult to locate the exact point. Unlike a muscle tear, which usually generates rapid functional impotence, elongation can allow practicing sports, although with less intensity. “You can tell that something has happened, and sometimes it is not distinguishable from an overload because it is not excessively painful,” Dr Sarwar abounds.
How to prevent muscle strains
Elongation is a type of injury that can be largely prevented, as long as some basic guidelines are taken into account:
- Perform eccentric muscular work. “In any muscle injury, eccentric strengthening work is important, which improves flexibility and contraction capacity,” says Albaladejo.
- Pay attention to muscle rebalancing. Dr. Sarwar comments that it is common to find athletes with the quadriceps and little hamstring, and vice versa. “This ratio is very important to have balanced,” physiotherapy doctor in Dwarka warns.
- Do a good job of dynamic stretching in the warm-up phase. This will serve to increase your body temperature and your muscles’ range of motion. Recent studies seem to indicate that stretching prior to exertion weakens the muscles and exposes them more to injury, as we explain in this article. For this reason, stretching should be accompanied by a movement that warms up the muscles.
- Good hydration and a good diet. Low hydration hinders the transport of minerals, through which the brain sends electrical impulses that muscle cells transform into movement. Dehydration can cause muscle spasms, and these lead to the dreaded cramps or elongation of the fibers.
- Avoid overtraining. Especially if you are returning to sports activity after a long period. Overtraining is reflected in muscle pain because the muscles need rest to recover and regenerate. Contractures, pulls or cramps can be related to excess. It can also cause muscle tears or tendinopathies.
What to do when you have a pulled muscle
Despite the apparent lightness of the muscle strain, it is advisable to stop practicing sports for a few days.
The treatment can be carried out in two phases:
- The first two or three days it is convenient to control the inflammation by applying ice, in several daily sessions of twenty to thirty minutes. “Studies agree that in the first three days what you have to do is rest, ice, elevation and compression,” says the physiotherapist in Delhi. In this way, the bleeding of the possible microtear is limited, which will reduce the scar.
- As soon as the pain allows it, generally after the third day, you can move on to an activation phase. The goal is “to activate the circulation, begin to vascularize and work on strengthening with a smooth and controlled progression,” says Dr Sarwar. Isometric contraction can also be worked on. That is, the contraction of the muscle without altering its length.
“Properly diagnosed, it should not take more than ten days to return to normal activity,” concludes the physiotherapist in Dwarka.