Get Back in the Game After Pulling a Muscle
January 30, 2013 | Jim Carpentier
Pulled a hamstring or quad muscle recently? Don’t let it derail your season. Adhere to these general rehab guidelines, enhance your recovery and return to action sooner than expected. Recovery time varies with the severity of the pulled muscle. Minor strains can fully heal in seven to 14 days, whereas more severe injuries can take several weeks. In either case, it’s imperative that you follow the steps recommended by health professionals to optimize recovery. (See Preventing and Treating Common Muscle Strains.)
Stop and rest the injured leg
Don’t try to play through the pain or you can worsen the injury and lengthen recovery time.
Immediately apply ice to the injured site
For a cycle of 15 minutes on and off, ice the injury about five to 10 times during the first 48 hours while keeping the injured area elevated to reduce swelling and inflammation. The sooner you start ice treatments, the quicker you're on the road to recovery by minimizing swelling. (Read Should You Ice or Heat That Injury?)
Passively rest the injured limb
Employ the "dynamic rest" principle by exercising and strengthening other muscle groups to circulate those "feel good" healing endorphins throughout the body and preserve your fitness level while the injury heals.
Consume anti-inflammatory beverages and foods
Drink fluids such as water, black and green tea. Eat foods that fight inflammation, like fruits, veggies and seafood. They are mandatory in your diet now. Avoid sugary and salty processed foods and beverages (e.g., cakes, candy, chips, soda) that spike inflammation.
After two days of cold therapy, switch to moist heat applications
Combine Epsom salts and warm water packs that subdue inflammation and promote blood flow to the injured site.
For minor strains, on days three through six, gently stretch and lightly massage
Gently stretch and lightly massage around the strained muscle to restore range of motion, break up scar tissue, and boost blood flow to the area.
On days seven through nine, try low-impact strengthening exercises
Exercises like partial wall squats (back against a wall, slowly squat up and down a few times and hold the squat position for 30 to 45 seconds). Discontinue if there's pain.
Try cycling on a stationary bike for several minutes for leg strengthening and improving circulation around the injury.
Take long walks followed by light jogging to test if the injury has healed. If no pain, try running, the ultimate test to see if you're healthy enough to return to practices and games.