An uncomfortable pull in your bicep muscles makes you grimace during a weight workout. You shrug it off. As the week progresses, the pain and tenderness continue. You’re getting older, you say to yourself and press onward. By the weekend the discomfort lingers for hours post-workout. You find yourself rubbing the sore spot throughout the day and decide to take Sunday off and launch back into your normal routine on Monday. The arm burns the instant you pick up a weight. Now you’re annoyed. You’ll get out of shape if you don’t forge on, so you push through the pain and finish the workout and vow to take Advil® pre-workout from now on. Two weeks later your arm burns like fire during workouts and keeps you awake at night. You call your physician and ask for a referral to get an MRI.
Whether you’ve traveled that injury road or not, much can be learned from this story outlining a progression from a minor injury (that could be easily remediated) and a moderate one (that will at minimum require physical therapy and at worst might lead to surgery).
There are three levels of muscle strain or tear: Grade One, Grade Two and Grade Three, with Grade Three being the most severe.
A Grade One strain or tear involves slight tearing or overstretching of muscle fibers. Pain is experienced during activity, but usually ceases afterward. The muscle continues to function to capacity. Grade One strains can easily be remediated by resting the affected area, avoiding any type of strain at the gym or at home. Apply ice to the damaged tissue at least three times a day (protected in a cloth) and try some gentle self-massage with a ball or roller stick.
A Grade Two strain or tear is a moderate strain affecting a larger number of muscle fibers and causes severe tenderness and pain. Some swelling may occur; the discomfort will likely be felt post-exercise and a loss of strength in the affected area is common. The first day pain lingers after activity, rest for a minimum of two days and use ice and self-massage. If pain continues when resuming activity, contact a physical therapist. Continuing to train injured muscles will only lead to a Grade Three strain or a chronic condition of pain and compromised strength and function.
A Grade Three strain tears a muscle completely. This traumatic injury often happens when heavy weight is lifted without proper warm-up or adequate physical conditioning. A pop may be heard when the muscle shears or pulls away from the tendon. This serious type of muscle injury causes a complete loss of function as well as acute pain, swelling and inflammation.
When your muscles speak to you, please listen instead of tuning them out so your hard training can lead to improved strength, function and quality of life instead of injury and surgical intervention.
Susan is an AFAA certified instructor and personal trainer with Vital Moves (850-4089).