Suddenly sprinting now that it is Spring, may feel like a good idea, but your hamstrings may have a different idea. If you rush your training, something we have all done at least once in our lives, you're bound to strain something. Straining or pulling (the more intense of the two injuries) a muscle is a fairly common injury and both occur when a muscle is stretched too far. This over stretching actually causes tears in the muscle fiber.
The tears can be divided into three categories and at About.com they describe the different levels of severity like this:
Grade I: Mild discomfort and not much loss of range of motion. Usually does not limit activity.
Grade II: Moderate discomfort, stiffness, tenderness, swelling, and bruising in the area. You may also notice a bump or indentation at the site of the injury. You won't be able to contract the muscle fully without feeling pain.
Grade III: Severe injury that can cause significant pain. Often patients complain of muscle spasms, swelling, significant bruising, and internal bleeding. You will be unable to contract the muscle and surgery may be required to repair the ruptured muscle.
Usually you can feel the pain of a pulled muscle immediately during exercise, but it can also be the kind of injury that gradually happens from repetitive movements. Either way, if you want to know what you should do if you pulled a muscle then
- If you are exercising and you feel a sudden pain, stop what you're doing and rest immediately.
- Ice the area with a compressive bandage to help reduce swelling, control bleeding, and to ease the pain. Make sure not to ice the area for longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
- If the swelling is really bad, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen.
- If the pull is minor and the pain subsides start moving again. You will have a decreased range of motion, but you don't want to lose strength. Gentle stretching and low impact exercise will help to treat pulled muscles by getting blood flowing to the area. Proceed with caution because you don't want to make the injury worse.
I have pulled my hamstrings many times and have learned (knock on wood) the limits of my legs. If I feel a strain coming on, I chill out for a day and it really helps the healing process. Also, I wanted to remind you that the best way to avoid a pulled muscle is to warm up properly.