Treating a strained muscle is a four to five step process called the RICE or PRICE method. There are a variety of ways to acquire a muscle strain, but most often you’ll get one if you don’t properly warm up prior to exercising. During exertion, you might notice a popping sound, or a strong burning feeling. Sometimes muscle strains are not noticed until after activity has ended. You might have swelling or significant pain in the strained muscle area, denoting an injury.
For the standard small muscle tear or strained muscle, the five-step process of PRICE is usually the best to follow. PRICE is an acronym that stands for protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. Each step requires a slightly more extensive evaluation.
Many people leave off the protection step but it’s an important one to follow. If you have a strained muscle, you need to prevent further injury by avoiding other activities that might further injure the muscle. If you’ve got kids running about or rambunctious animals, try to avoid unnecessary collisions with the injured muscle. If needed, hide in a bedroom with a closed door, or remind others you are injured to reduce possible greater injury to the area.
The rest step is an important one since a strained muscle needs a chance to heal. It’s really best if you can make sure you’re not using that muscle in any way that can cause more injury. If you’ve strained a muscle in the leg, you absolutely should not be standing for any length of time for the first few days. Don’t let pain relievers fool you either — sometimes you can cause greater injury by not resting the strained muscle if a pain reliever makes you feel a little better.
Icing the muscle as soon as possible is one of the best ways to reduce swelling, and prevent more injury. Many people want to apply heat to muscle strains, but this should not be done in the first 24 hours. Instead, during waking hours, try to ice the strain for 15-20 minutes once an hour. You don’t need to use ice here, especially if you’re trying to apply it to an awkward place. Consider using bags of frozen corn or peas, which you can bend to the muscle requiring ice.
Compression means that you should attempt to bandage the injured area with an ACE® bandage or adhesive bandages. Taping may help awkward areas like the shoulders. Bandaging should inhibit movement of the muscle without pressing too hard on the injury. You’re not constructing something to cut off blood flow to the area, but instead, applying gentle pressure to help the muscle heal more quickly.
Elevation of the muscle means placing it above the level of your heart. If you’ve injured a leg or ankle, place enough pillows under the area to raise it just above heart level. Sitting up and keeping the arm on pillows, or the back of a couch can help a shoulder or arm. Elevation does reduce swelling, which promotes healing.
Muscle strains are classed in grades, signifying the degree of tear that has occurred in the muscles or tendons. Grade one and two strains can be treated at home and usually mean that no more than 50% of muscle fiber or tissue was torn in the injured area. A grade three strained muscle means significant damage to muscle fiber and should be treated by a physician. You may not always be able to tell which grade you have initially.
The standard rule is that Grade one and two strained muscles tend to feel better by the third day after the injury. If you are still in pain beyond this point, you should see a doctor. Further, if over the counter pain relievers and the PRICE method aren’t relieving pain or reducing swelling prior to the three-day mark, consider seeking medical attention sooner.