Note: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes and is not medical advice.
This information on self-help for cramps, sore or injured muscles has been divided up into several sections:
If you have had an injury to a muscle, tendon, or ligament, stop doing whatever caused you the pain, immediately. The sooner you initiate treatment, the faster your injury will heal. Avoid any significant activity until it is clear whether it is a minor or major injury.
If you have a mild injury, it may be treated with home care as described in a section below.
If thre is significant swelling and you have a moderate or severe injury, see a doctor. Especially with injuries to the wrists and ankles, it is wise to have x-rays taken to make sure no bones have been broken. If you have muscle problems or injuries due to a motor vehicle accident, see a physician, if possible within 72 hours of the accident. Always see a doctor if pain or swelling is extreme or if you have any concerns.
Contusions (bruising): A contusion is a bruise caused by a blow to your muscle, tendon, or ligament. The bruise is caused when blood pools around the injury and discolors your skin.Strains (damage to muscle or tendon): A strain may be a simple stretch in a muscle or tendon, or it may be a partial or complete tear in the muscle-and-tendon combination. You can cause a strain or sprain by putting too much stress on a muscle or muscle group, or by twisting and pulling a tendon or ligament. Muscles are made to stretch, but if stretched too far, or if stretched while contracting, a strain may result.
Typically, strains hurt immediately and continue to hurt for hours and even days after the injury. A strained muscle may go into spasms or knot up instead of relaxing normally. Localized pain (during movement), swelling, and loss of mobility may occur. Swelling tends to come on rather slowly over a period of hours, but may reach rather large proportions.
Sprains (stretched or torn ligament): A sprain is a simple stretch or tear of the ligaments. You can cause a strain or sprain by putting too much stress on a muscle or muscle group, or by twisting and pulling a tendon or ligament. If too much force is applied to a ligament, such as in a fall, the ligaments can be stretched or torn. In a severe sprain, ligaments may be completely torn.
The signs of a sprain are rapid swelling, heat, and disability; often discoloration and limitation of function. When a ligament is torn, there is usually significant bleeding into the tissues around the joint, and swelling tends to come on quickly and be of impressive dimensions.
It is important to understand that the intensity of the symptoms and signs may not be accurate indicators of the difference between a sprain and a fracture. If in doubt, splint the affected area to stabilize it and seek medical help.
Most mild contusions, strains, or sprains heal with "R.I.C.E." (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), followed by simple stretches to relieve pain and restore mobility. The RICE treatment reduces inflammation that comes with acute injury. Inflammation often causes redness, heat, swelling, and pain. The earlier the RICE treatment is started after an injury, the better it works.
If you experience pain in the affected area, you may be aggravating the condition. In some cases, in order for a musculoskeletal injury to heal, it needs to be immobilized for 2-3 days following the injury. Using the injured "part" too early can cause further damage to the area and prolong recovery. Wraps, tape, splints, casts, canes and crutches can all help keep an injury immobilized. For difficult areas, such as around the bony areas of the ankle, pads can be cut and held in place with athletic tape and/or an elastic wrap.
Also, allow your body to rest for a few days after an injury.
For the first 72 hours, apply the cold treatment about every 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Do not keep the ice on for longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. (Do not apply heat as it can cause increased swelling and result in more pain.)
After three days, both cold and heat may be of benefit. Cold may be of more benefit if swelling remains in the area or if muscle spasms are present. Continue applying ice 3 times a day if necessary.
When using a cold pack or ice, be aware of the CBAN: Cold, Burn, Ache, Numb. When you apply ice to an injured area, you will first feel the cold, then it feels more like a burn, then it aches, and then the injured area feels numb. Some people experience this progression in a short amount of time, for others it is longer. Once numb, stop the ice treatment, because bringing the temperature of the tissue too low can cause damage. Another way to know exactly how long to apply ice is by appearance. If you apply cold correctly, the area you applied to cold pack to will become red. This is the normal response. If there are blotchy white spots in the red area after you remove a cold pack, this means the area has been cooled excessively and is a warning sign. Decrease the amount of time the cold pack is left on the next time.
NOTE: If you have a circulatory condition, previous frostbite, hypertension, a cardiac condition, or areas of nerve damage which would make the use of cold inappropriate, then consult your physician prior to the use of cold.
Compression should be removed at night and the affected area elevated above the heart.
The injured area should be elevated above the level of the heart. Prop up a leg or arm while resting it. You may need to lie down to get your leg above your heart level. This is especially important at night when the body processes slow down.
Also helpful may be:
Preventing Injuries: Strains and sprains occur when muscles are too weak or too tired to carry out the physical stress placed on them. You can help prevent sprains and strains by stretching and limbering up before starting an activity. If your injury is due to athletics, cross train and choose activities that put very little stress on the sore body part. Make sure your equipment is supporting you properly. Typically it is easy to reinjure an area that has already been injured so be careful with future activities.Top
Temporary muscle aches may occur unexpectedly in situations like these:
To get out of pain:
Many episodes of muscle pain and stiffness go away by themselves within 2 to 3 days. If they persist longer than that, see a massage therapist or other health care professional. Also read the instructions below for recurrent or ongoing muscle soreness.Top
Muscle spasms or cramps are any kind of undesired sustained involuntary muscle contraction. These can be short and sudden, causing severe intense pain (especially leg or foot cramps). They can also be longer lasting, as in a mild ache or discomfort that doesn't go away. I will especially talk about leg and foot cramps (sometimes called Charlie horse) since so many people ask about them.
To get out of pain:
For further help with recurrent spasms, read the instructions below for recurrent or ongoing muscle soreness.
Special instructions for foot and leg cramps:
Leg or foot cramps may be due to poor circulation, lack of salt, dehydration, abnormal mineral or hormone levels, pinched nerves (from spinal misalignment or muscle tension in the hips or legs), alcohol or tobacco use, decreased flow of blood to the legs, nutritional deficiency, environmental toxicity, or chemical sensitivity. Prescription or over-the counter medications, sugar, or caffeine can also cause or increase cramping.
As people age, leg cramps become common. This is related to reduced activity or muscle fatigue when the muscles don't get enough blood supply. Getting moderate regular activity during the day or stretching the muscles before bedtime generally reduces the likelihood of cramps during the night. Stretching the calf muscles of the leg before sleeping can also help.
If you have a cramp in your calf, contract the muscles in the front of the lower leg (the shin). To do this, straighten your leg and flex your foot (bend toes back towards knees) to contract the muscle in the front of the lower leg. This should relax the muscles in the back of the calf. If a cramp is very tight and painful, you may need to do this very slowly. Pressing against something can help contract the opposing muscle. For example, if you are flexing your foot to alleviate a calf spasm, place your other foot on top of the foot and press.
Additional suggestions: Sleep with legs bent, avoid high heels, eliminate sugar and caffeine (caffeine interferes with the body’s absorption of magnesium), soak feet/legs in warm/hot water, use a heating pad for ten minutes before bedtime, or place a pillow at the end of the bed to prop up your feet. For dehydration, drink more water, not alcohol or caffeine, because they will dehydrate the body even more.
If you have this problem, try increasing your consumption of calcium. Magnesium may be especially helpful. Other supplements that may lessen the severity (frequency or duration) of leg/foot cramps: daily use of Vitamin E, B-complex, Vitamin A, potassium, or folic acid. Homeopathic remedies and herbs especially for leg/foot cramps can be obtained at health food stores.
See a professional massage therapist for massage of the hips, legs, calves, and feet. If your muscles are tight in any of these places, they may be causing restriction of the nerves and blood vessels, triggering the spasms. Sometimes the muscles and tissues of the leg are so bound up, it takes professional help to resolve this type of problem. You will know in one or two sessions if massage is helping.
Longer-term, chronic conditions are those that repeat or last over time. Some examples of chronic conditions include:
First get yourself out of pain by following the recommendations in the above sections. Then, take steps to decrease the ongoing tension which caused the pain to begin with. Typically, chronic pain or problems occur and recur because a person's muscles are already tight, and then an event causes an episode of pain to "suddenly" happen. The potential for the problem has actually been building up for a long time, and it just took one last straw for pain to occur. Thus, the best prevention is to reduce muscle tension in daily life on a regular basis.
By taking good care of your body on a regular basis, you may decrease both injuries and episodes of muscle discomfort.
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by Jan DeCourtney, CMT