A muscle strain is often wrongly referred to as a sprain... there is a difference.
A sprain is an injury that occurs to ligaments. A strain, on the other-hand, is one that occurs to muscles due to muscle tear.
Both of these injuries are often treated as one in the same. For
purposes here we will be discussing strain.
A strain is an injury that occurs to muscle tissue when that muscle is
forced to perform beyond its limitation. You now have a torn muscle as a result of overload.
With any strain there is some bleeding within the muscle tissue. A small strain will result in microscopic tears and bleeding. With a major strain , as in a complete tear, there will be more extensive bleeding.
Torn muscle will cause inflammation. Inflammation will develop within 48 hours. All inflammation will have with it pain, swelling, redness, and heat. These are the hallmark signs of inflammation. All of these signs can be present in varying degrees and not necessarily corresponding to the degree of injury.
Some of these cannot be measured or be apparent to the naked eye. For instance, heat from a mild degree of inflammation is dissipated, or carried away from the site of injury, by the circulatory system. Redness cannot be noticed because the injury is found deep within the tissue and is covered by muscle fibers, connective tissue, fat and skin. Tissue swelling may or may not be evident.
Chemicals are released at the site of the muscle tear or muscle strain and special cells are called to action. These chemicals and cells are responsible for initiating and carrying out the healing process.
The more bleeding the more likely the chance for more inflammation.
Inflammation is a necessary part of that process.
Inflammation following a strain is good. Too much inflammation, or poorly treated and controlled inflammation, is bad and will result in more scar tissue that can be a source of pain as well as impairing normal muscle function.
So, you need to not stop inflammation but control it.
The first course of action with any muscle strain is rest, ice, compression and elevation. This is referred to as “RICE”. The “R” stands for rest, “I” for ice, “C” for compression and lastly the “E” stands for elevation.
The purpose of “RICE”is to minimize excessive bleeding, swelling, pain and inflammation.
If you do not allow the injured muscles to rest sufficiently, to permit
the normal process of repair, you risk further injury (tearing).
Consequently, you will make the injury worse and delay or prevent normal healing.
Pain is one way the body attempts to prevent you from inflicting
further harm. It does this by making movement painful and forces you to rest.
Speaking of pain, just like inflammation, it is an important and
necessary reaction to any injury. Short term pain is good. Increasing pain, or prolonged pain, is detrimental to the healing process and has the potential to become a chronic pain syndrome.
The body has the ability to develop a chronic pain pattern. This is not good. It does this through the nervous system. Once the nerves
responsible for carrying the pain message are stimulated long enough, then they want to continue sending these pain signals. This happens even after the injured site has healed.
A perfect example of this is when an amputee continues to "feel" or
experience pain in the amputated limb. The limb is gone; but, the pain is still felt. This is called "phantom pain". The nerves that had conveyed the message of pain from that limb to the brain are still intact proximal to the amputated site and can still signal pain messages.
Once a nerve "learns" a response then that nerve wants to continue that same response.
If the muscle strain has healed properly, and the treatment rendered has not been detrimental, then that muscle should return to normal function without pain.
However, even after healing, pain may persist because trigger points have been activated. Now these trigger points want to express pain due to hypersensitive nerve endings. These hypersensitive nerve endings have activated trigger points within the muscles and now you have a "learned” pain pattern.
The result is chronic lower back pain despite the fact that the injury has healed.
You have now gone from a muscle strain to a myofascial pain syndrome also know as trigger point pain. This pain becomes chronic in nature and you will continue to suffer with pain for months, years or even a lifetime...
...unless the trigger points are eliminated.
If you visit your M.D. or chiropractor and they discover degenerative
joint disease on your x-rays, they will, all to frequently, blame the
degenerative joint disease for the pain. When in fact you had
degenerative joint disease prior to the injury.
Even though you did not have pain prior to the strain, the degenerative joint disease may have predisposed you to the muscle injury.
If you do not treat the degenerative joint disease the best you can, as well as eliminating the trigger points, then you will continue to be
susceptible to further strains and/or myofascial pain.