What does a muscle tear feel like?
A muscle tear often happens as you try to move quickly, especially if you are not warmed up properly. People often describe a tear as feeling like someone has kicked them in the leg, or as a snapping sensation. Usually you will not be able to continue on with the activity. Depending on where the tear occurred and how many muscle fibres you have torn you may get swelling or bruising over the next 1-48 hours.
Diagrammatic representation of a hamstring tear:
What should you do?
Rest – ceasing your activity or sport, and limiting the amount of weight you put through your leg. Crutches may be required if you are having difficulty walking.
Ice – applied to the injured site for 15-20 minutes every 1-2 hours. Ideally, it should be applied using crushed ice wrapped in a moist cloth or towel.
Compression – apply a firm elastic bandage around your knee. It should be firm but not tight enough to cause pain.
Elevation – lying with your knee resting comfortably on a chair or pillows so that it is above the level of your heart. You should continue the RICE regime until you consult a physiotherapist, preferably within two days of the initial injury
If the tear is affecting your walking (i.e. if you are limping) you need to see your physiotherapist, as if you continue to limp, you will often make the problem worse or create more problems. Your physio may provide you with crutches for short-term use to improve your walking pattern. Your physio will also be able to assess how severe your tear is, and this will give you some idea of how long recovery will take. As you improve, you will need to do some leg exercises to improve the muscle strength and control to prevent a recurrence of the injury.
What exercises can help Lower Limb Muscle Tears?
Initially you should not stretch the effected muscle as this can make the tear worse. You can start some active movements of the leg, (e.g. if it is your hamstring or quadriceps you can try some knee bends, or if it is your calf, try doing some pain-free ankle pumps).
How long to recover?
Recovery time depends on how severe the tear is and how well you manage the injury. For minor tears you could recover in as little as 10-14 days for moderate tears it usually takes 4-6 weeks, for very severe tears it could take a few months or some may even require surgery. Since so much of the recovery time depends on correct management, it is a good idea to consult with your physiotherapist early on to ensure you deal with the injury correctly.
What can you do to prevent recurrence of tears?
- Warm up – make sure you do a low intensity warm up before any physical activity (e.g. a light walk, then jog, some side to side running, backwards running and jumps and hops)
- Wear compression garments – ‘Skins’ or other compression clothing can help to reduce the risk of muscle tearing
- Cool down and stretch – always do some cool-down exercises and stretches after playing sport or exercising
- If your muscles feel tight while exercising, slow down and stretch them, then start with some more warm up exercises before continuing