Doctors and physical therapists regularly treat muscle strains and ligament sprains, especially in athletes or patients who are physically active. Although these are not typically serious injuries, they do need to be addressed to prevent exacerbating tissue damage or injuring the area again. In many cases, patients with minor muscle strain injuries benefit from a clear course of home treatment recommendations. When patients come to you with a muscle strain or ligament sprain, be prepared with these tips to help them enjoy a faster recovery:
Prompt Treatment Is Best
Patients are often inclined to “wait it out” because they are not aware of their treatment options, or they don’t want the hassle of making a doctor appointment for a minor injury that they know will eventually heal on its own. However, not taking any steps to reduce the pain and inflammation caused by a muscle strain results in a longer recovery process and unnecessary discomfort. Explain to patients why doing nothing is not in their best interest and offer clear treatment recommendations they can do at home or with the help of a physical therapist.
Rest Is Essential
Many patients don’t realize that one of the most important factors in speedy healing is getting ample rest, especially in the first several days after sustaining a muscle strain. The body needs a lot of energy to heal damaged tissues, and resting allows torn muscle fibers to repair themselves more quickly. On the other hand, trying to maintain a consistent activity level could have a detrimental effect and potentially lead to a worse injury.
Ice or Heat?
Many patients are confused or unsure about when to use cold therapy and when to use heat. It is also common for people to naturally gravitate toward the latter because it is more comfortable and sometimes feels more soothing. However, cold therapy is typically the best option in the first several days after an injury while the inflammatory response is at its peak. Applying heat during this time can actually contribute to more inflammation as it increases blood flow. Explain to patients that cold therapy may be the best option for at least a week, and then they can use heat therapy later if it helps them relax and loosen tight muscles.
Adding compression to cold therapy can help prevent excess swelling and remove edema from the injured area. Depending on the location of the injury, instruct patients on the best methods for applying compression. For maximum convenience, recommend a cold therapy system featuring adjustable wraps that provide active compression and are easy to apply on any area of the body.
Although not every muscle strain requires physical therapy as part of the treatment, injuries to major muscle groups or those that frequently recur can benefit from this approach. A physical therapist can help patients safely return to normal activity by recommending exercises that gradually increase strength and range of motion. For athletes who experience frequent injuries, treatment can also include exercises that help prevent future injury as well as instruction on proper technique to maintain correct form during athletic activity.
Download the Muscle Strain Tip Sheet from Game Ready so you have it available for patients who come to you with a muscle strain or ligament sprain. This free resource covers relevant topics, such as how a muscle strain occurs, why home care is so important, and the most common options for treating a muscle strain.