Know Your Pain: Muscle Pain – Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
By Alpro Pharmacy
September 12, 2022
Do you know that the human body consists of over 600 muscles? So, it’s difficult for us to avoid any injury to our muscles. The two common muscle pain seen in the community are muscle strain and muscle soreness. Let’s see the differences between these two types of muscle pain:
In this article, we will focus on acute muscle strain in the legs.
Photo adopted from: https://physioyves.com/calf-strain-tear/
What Is A Muscle Strain?
Muscle strain, also known as pulled muscle, is one of the most common painful injuries which occurs when your muscle is overstretched or torn. It usually occurs in the lower back, legs, shoulder, and neck.
This picture shows what a muscle strain looks like at the thigh area.
Photo adopted from: https://www.rheumatologynetwork.com/view/clinical-management-muscle-strains-and-tears
How Muscle Strain Can Happen?
Muscle strain happens when our muscles are stretched too far beyond limits or forced into excessive contraction, and in the worst case scenario it may lead to muscle torn.
Muscle strain in the legs mostly occurs
- while doing certain physical activities that keep repeating the same motion, such as running or jumping.
- while lifting heavy objects with poor body posture
- if performs high-intensity exercise continuously without rest in between 30 minutes (which can lead to mineral loss in sweat, dehydration and muscle fatigue)
- If a person does not stretch or warm up before exercise
- If a person does not exercise regularly, hence, the muscles are tighter and more prone to strains.
What Does Muscle Strain Feel Like?
When a muscle strain occurs at the leg, the person usually experiences:
- A sudden sharp throbbing pain which usually occurs right after an activity
- Increased pain when moving the affected muscle area but pain is relieved or reduced at rest.
- Pops sound in the muscle at the time of injury
- Localized swelling (blue or black bruising may appear on the swelling area)
- Limited leg movement
- Cramp and spasm in the leg muscle
How Do We Manage Muscle Strain?
Most of the acute muscle strain cases can be managed safely at home using P.O.L.I.C.E Principle. It is a first aid method for acute musculoskeletal injury, which we can apply at home when muscle strain occurs. It aims to control the amount of swelling at the injured area, prevent further injury and reduce pain within the first 24-72 hours of the muscle strain.
Photo adopted from: https://samarpanphysioclinic.com/police-principle/
Let’s go through the P.O.L.I.C.E principle for acute muscle strain in the legs:
Protection of the injured area is needed to prevent further injury. The injured person will need to avoid activities and movements that increase pain during the first few days after muscle strain.
- Optimal Loading
Optimal loading is required to speed up the healing process. Rest is usually needed in the first one to two days of muscle strain and after that, a person can start moving the strained muscle or walking a short distance depending on the severity of pain. A physiotherapist’s advice may be sought if a person is too afraid of starting moving. Sometimes, walking aids such as walking sticks, crutches or walking frames may also be used to help start moving.
Ice packs can be applied at the affected area in the first three days of injury (20 minutes at a time every 2 hours if necessary) to reduce pain, swelling and bruising.
Important note: Do not apply the ice pack directly on the skin! Remember to wrap the ice pack in a dry towel or cloth before applying.
Elastic bandage or taping can be used to compress the injured area to reduce swelling and speed up recovery. It is usually applied immediately after a muscle strain, used up to 8 hours a day and removed during sleeping time.
Apply the bandage directly on the skin, starting from a few inches below the injured area, wrap around into the figure of eight and in a spiral manner to a few inches above the injured area (refer to the figure below).
Ensure the compression is not too tight nor too loose. If the bandage causes tingling, numbness and leg color changes, loosen the bandage immediately.
Photo adopted from: https://www.drugs.com/cg/muscle-strain.html
Elevate the affected area above the heart level (refer to the picture below) to reduce swelling. It is the most effective if applied within 24-48 hours of an injury. Once the swelling has subsided, you can stop doing this.
Photo adopted from: https://samarpanphysioclinic.com/police-principle/
Other than the P.O.L.I.C.E principle mentioned above, the following suggestions may also help relieve pain or swelling caused by a muscle strain:
- Oral painkillers: Paracetamol can help relieve pain while non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), for example ibuprofen and diclofenac can help relieve pain and swelling.
- Topical painkillers: Analgesic cream, ointment or patch containing NSAIDs or methyl salicylate can also be used to reduce the pain and swelling.
- Supplements such as turmeric, willow bark and devil’s claw may also be useful.
Always consult a pharmacist and doctor to get advice on the right type of painkiller or supplement for the muscle strain depending on the pain intensity and your other concurrent health conditions.
When Should You See A Doctor?
You will have to seek help from a doctor immediately if you encounter one of the following symptoms together with the muscle strain:
- The injured area is not able to bear weight. For instance, a person cannot walk on the injured leg at all.
- The leg experiences numbness, which may indicate nerve damage.
- The pain lasts longer than 7 days
Nevertheless, prevention is always better than cure. Always do body stretching or warm up before an exercise and have proper cool down after an exercise. Exercise regularly (at least 3 times per week) with strength training exercise such as weight lifting and stretching exercise in order to keep muscles toned and flexible. Last but not least, by eating food high in potassium, like banana and avocado before exercise, you can prevent muscle fatigue due to loss of salt from sweating.
Dealing with Muscle Pain?
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We have PainWISE Accreditated Pharmacists who can help you to understand your pain, empower YOU in managing pain and achieve a Pain-FREE life!
Managing pain well involves multidisciplinary care, it is not only about medication.
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