Muscle Strains, Sprains And Spasms: The Complete Guidebook

Muscle problems: sprains, strains and spasms

Contributed by- Dr. Pooja Chaudhary

Almost half of your body weight is because of muscles. Muscles are really important part of a human body as they connect your bones and enable smooth body movement.

All of us have experienced muscle sprain or cramps at some point of time or other. But what exactly are muscle sprains, strains and spasms? It is really important to get facts right inorder to protect yourself and get the correct kind of treatment.

Muscle strain, sprain or cramps occurs when our muscle gets overstretched or torn. This is mostly the result of fatigue, overuse or improper use of muscle, sudden or quick heavy lifting during sports or otherwise, which results in tearing of the muscle.


What is the difference between strains and sprains?

Most of us do not know the difference between sprain and strain and often use them interchangeably. Although with almost the same symptoms these two are quite different from each other.

Muscle sprain

Muscle sprain generally occurs in case of overstretching or ligament (hard bands of fibrous tissues that connects two bones together in the joints) tear. Ankle sprain is the most common sprain.

Some of the most common causes of sprains are:

  • Spinning or twisting of the knee during an athletic activity
  • Walking or exercising on an uneven or bumpy surface can often cause ankle sprain
  • Falling on the outstretched hand or lifting heavy objects can cause wrist sprain
  • Thumb sprain is common sports injury mostly in case of skiing or over extension of muscle while playing racquet sports, football, basketball etc.



Muscle strain

Stretching or tearing of muscles or tendons (fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones) is known as muscle strain. The most common strains occur in the lower back and in the back muscle of the thigh. Muscle strains are of mainly two types; acute and chronic and the common causes of muscle strains are:

  • Not warming up or not warming up enough before any physical activity
  • Poor flexibility
  • Over exertion and fatigue
  • Jumping
  • Running
  • Lifting something heavy
  • Lifting something in an awkward position
  • Incase of injury or trauma
  • Sitting or standing in an awkward position
  • Slippery or uneven surfaces


What are muscle spasms?

Muscle spasms or muscle cramps are the sudden contraction of the muscles identified with sudden and severe pain. The muscle cramps or spasms occur in the leg muscles especially in the calf area. The most common causes of muscle spasms are:

  • Physical exertion or overexertion
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance in the body


What are the symptoms of muscle strain, sprain and spasms?

The common muscle sprain symptoms include:

  • Swelling or inflammation
  • Bruising and redness caused due to injury
  • Pain while resting
  • Pain when the specific muscle or joint is used
  • Difficulty or inability to use the muscle


Whereas, some of the most common muscle strain symptoms are:

  • Swelling
  • Limited flexibility
  • Pain around the affected or injured area
  • Muscle spasms
  • Weakness in the muscle or tendons
  • During the time of injury, person may hear or feel a “pop” in the joint


The common symptoms of muscle cramps are:

  • Sudden and sharp pain
  • Hard lump of tissue under the skin
  • Twitching
  • The affected area may appear firm on touch
  • Sign of issues with the spine or spinal problems


The diagnosis of muscle strain, sprain and spasms

Incase of persistent pain it is always recommended to seek professional help. Diagnosis of these muscle problems starts with a physical examination and the doctor looks for the following symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Tenderness at the affected limb
  • Injured ligament, muscle or tendon that has been injured


After the physical examination the doctor generally advises for a X-ray to rule out any kind of fracture or bone injury as the cause of problem. MRI is mostly advised to check for the extend of injury. The proper examination holds a lot of importance and should not be ignored. Ignorance of such muscle problems can lead to severe or extreme problems.


Treatment for muscle strains, sprains and spasms

Muscle strains, sprains and spasms are mostly easily treatable at home but if the pain is really severe going to the doctor is always a smart idea. Treatment of such muscle problems also depend on the involved joint and the severity or intensity of the injury. The common sprain or muscle strain treatment which should be followed include:

  • Medication: For mild sprains or strains an over the counter pain medication is mostly recommended to soothe the pain and bring some relaxation.
  • Rest: Good rest can do the trick and can bring miraculous results. The affected person is highly advised to rest as much as possible and avoid any kind of physical activity that can lead to more pain, swelling or any kind of discomfort.
  • Compression: Compressing the area with an elastic bandage can help in reducing the swelling.
  • Therapy: In case of mild to moderate sprain, spasm or strain application of an ice pack on the affected area helps in reducing the inflammation.
  • Elevation:  Keeping the affected area in a elevated position helps a lot. The doctor often immobilizes the joint with the help of brace or splint to provide support and proper recovery.
  • Surgery: It is mostly recommended in the case of torn ligament or ruptured muscle. Surgery is only recommended when the problem is really severe and operating is the best solution.


The healing process of the strained or pulled muscle mostly starts with the inflammatory repose and it can take 3-5 days to heal completely.

Preventing muscle sprains and muscle cramps

Muscle sprain, cramps or strain can be prevented by taking some basic precautions like:

  • Avoid sitting at one place for a very long time as it can cause muscle strain. This can be prevented by changing your position or taking frequent breaks from one position.
  • The posture of your body can help you dodge several muscle problems. To prevent muscle pull in the back it is important to maintain a good posture while standing or sitting.
  • One should be very careful while lifting heavy objects, as it can lead to muscle pull or strain in the shoulder. The correct method is to keep your back straight and bend at your knees while lifting heavy objects.
  • It is advisable to be careful while walking, holding of handrails while climbing or descending the staircase, avoiding slippery surfaces, keeping the floors uncluttered are few tricks to avoid falling.
  • Try shedding off the extra kilos, as the heavier you are the more is the strain on the muscles. Avoid over exertion while exercising.
  • Always wear proper footwears with comfortable soles to prevent any kind of back muscle strain.


You can never completely avoid these muscle problems but being more careful can always help you stay healthy and recover faster.


Keep your health in check


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