One of the most common sports injuries are pulled muscles, otherwise referred to as muscle tears or muscle strains. There are different grades of severity in this type of injury. Furthermore, Physical Therapists have their own grading system for quantifying muscle tears, but in any matter, the greater the injury, the higher the grade. Muscle tears have the best outcomes when attended to right after the initial injury. People who don’t get their injury properly attended to after the first occurrence have a greater risk of re-injuring the same muscle.
When a muscle tears, there is a disruption in the muscle fibers, which tend to all run in a parallel direction and (very often) in the line with the direction of pull of the muscle fibers, and its important to note that muscle contractions are the strongest when the muscle fibers run in line with the direction of pull (force). When a muscle tears, scar tissue is laid down over the injured area to allow for tissue healing, however, the scar tissue is like a mangled mess of tissue that does NOT run parallel to the muscle fibers. Therefore, if the scar tissue remains over the injured site, it acts as a weak point in the muscle and there is higher risk of re-tearing the same exact area. This is one of the greatest reasons for athletes to have repetitive and chronic injuries to the same muscles.
No doubt, the first 1-2 weeks after a muscle tear are critical. This is when natural/primary healing occurs and its important to abide by the “RICE” principal (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). After this time period, the goal of treatment is to figure out why the tear occurred (was it purely a traumatic injury? or was the injury a ticking time bomb to due muscular imbalance?). This is best assessed by someone who understands how to assess the patient’s biomechanics and can then come up with a treatment plan to speed up recovery and (most importantly) prevent future injury. Optimizing healing of the injured area often includes techniques to break down scar tissue and systematically apply load to the injured site in order to realign all the soft tissue cells/muscle fibers so they can be stressed in a parallel direction to the line of pull as previously mentioned. This allows the muscle to regain full strength and prevent future injury to the same site.