Working out while you have even one strained muscle is foolish because it increases the chance you will sustain a more serious injury. It’s also unnecessary because a strained muscle is a very minor injury that heals with a few days rest and you shouldn’t be strenuously exercising the same muscles twice within 48 hours anyway. Strained muscles are so minor that they can be prevented by stretching properly before working out.
Exercising your heart muscle as many days as you can via moderately vigorous exercises such as bicycling, running and walking is the best way to improve your cardiovascular fitness. However, exercising your skeletal muscles every day via strenuous exercises such as sprinting and weightlifting is counterproductive. Your skeletal muscles have microscopic tears the day after you strenuously exercise. This is a good thing. The soreness caused by the tears indicates that you exercised enough to strengthen your muscles. Larger tears are strained muscles. Regardless of the size of the tears, you should rest for about 48 hours before exercising strenuously again, according to “The Merck Manual of Medical Information.” Resting skeletal muscles allows them to heal and become stronger. Exercising them too soon makes them weaker.
Strains are muscle injuries. They shouldn’t be confused with sprains, which are injuries to ligaments -- the tissue that connects bones. Strained muscles are often called pulled muscles. They are the most minor of the three kinds of muscle tears and generally occur when inflexible muscles are pushed as hard as flexible muscles should be pushed, according to “Swim, Bike, Run.” Pain signals you have a strained muscle. Exercising with a first-degree muscle tear increases your chances of sustaining a second- or third-degree muscle tear. A second-degree muscle tear causes sudden and sharp pain as well as swelling. A third-degree muscle tear is a rupture that must be surgically repaired and could prevent you from exercising for several months.
Your hamstring and groin muscles are the most likely to be strained, according to “Fitness For Dummies.” Your hamstrings, the muscles in the back part of your thighs, and your groin muscles, the muscles in the inner part of your thighs, are often pulled because they’re not stretched properly before the exercise begins. A proper warm-up exercise creates warm muscles, and warm muscles stretch further during exercises. Pain while straightening your leg indicates you have a pulled hamstring muscle. Pain while lifting your leg indicates you have a pulled groin muscle. In both cases, you should stop exercising immediately so you can avoid a second- or third-degree muscle tear.
A five-minute warm-up routine before beginning to exercise strenuously can prevent most strained muscles. Exercise expert Dr. Kenneth Cooper recommends slow toe-touching, bending your torso from side to side while your arms are extended above your head, and stretching your back and leg muscles. Cooper also recommends not starting your exercise too vigorously. Running slowly before sprinting, for example, is better than sprinting immediately.
Rest is the best way to treat strained muscles. Muscles heal faster than bones, ligaments and tendons because they have higher blood flows. Strained muscles are often healed within two days. Ice can expedite the healing process. Second-degree tears require three days of treatment with ice followed by a few days of treatment with heat. Third-degree tears require surgery.
- The Merck Manual of Medical Information
- Swim, Bike, Run; Glenn Town and Todd Kearney
- Fitness For Dummies; Suzanne Schlosberg and Liz Neporent
- Controlling Cholesterol the Natural Way; Dr. Kenneth Cooper
Jay Schwartz has had articles printed by the "Chicago Tribune," "USA Today" and many other publications since 1983. He's covered health, fitness, nutrition, business, real estate, government, features, sports and more. A Lafayette, Pa. college graduate, he's also written for several Fortune 500 corporate publications and produced business newsletters.