Identify a Pulled Muscle

A pulled muscle that is left unattended is an injury that can have potentially serious consequences for a runner in training. In the least, if it occurs within 2 or 3 weeks of your running goal, you should give serious consideration to postponing your event date to allow for proper recovery time. Muscle pulls are actual tears of your muscle fibre strands and the degree of damage that has occurred is commonly rated by medical professionals on a grading scale from 1 to 3. With minor muscle pulls or Grade 1 tears, a slight twinge and localized pain is usually felt when the muscle is activated or used.

A little more serious pulls of Grade 2 classification involve the tearing of more muscle fibres which will accompany more pain usually without needing to activate or flex the muscle to feel it.

Grade 3 which are the most serious type of pulled muscle occurs when the muscle fibres completely detach from their point of attachment. Pain is sharp and extreme for complete muscle tears. Visible bruising at the site of occurrence is typical for all levels of muscle pulls. For Grade 3 muscle pulls, the bunched up muscle head can usually be seen at the point where it is still attached.


Essentially, all muscle pulls occur when muscle fibres are extended beyond their capacity. Muscle fibre pliability depend on a number of factors including but not limited to the runner’s injury history, nutrition, age, stretching routine and most importantly the internal working temperature of the muscles at the time of any given run. In other words, whether or not the muscles have had ample time to warm up! Muscle pulls either occur as a result of sudden trauma to the muscle such as an overload of weight or from more gradual repetitive stress without adequate recovery. Runners are most likely at risk of experiencing a pulled muscle when performing high intensity workouts such as intervals or hills without adequately warming up.

More serious muscle pulls can occur if runners ignore early warning signals of minor muscle fibre tears by masking the pain with ice and/or anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) followed by the resumption of running such as that which might occur during a long event such as a marathon or ultra. Ice and drugs are very effective during recovery but give a false sense of well-being that can lead to a more serious muscle tear if running is immediately resumed.

Manage a Pulled Muscle

The latest studies on ice and recovery reveals that ice should be applied to aches and pains for no longer 5 minutes at a time and avoid using NSAIDS during an event if you plan on continuing to run for the reasons mentioned above. Cold muscle fibres are less pliable and more susceptible to further damage.

If you suspect a pulled muscle of even a minor grade, it’s vitally important to treat it with care and look at taking time off from running for at least a few days. During this time, frequent icing of the areas in bouts of no more than 20 minutes at a time as well as physiotherapy would be the most diligent route of treatment. During the healing process, a physiotherapist may identify that friction massages can help the muscle fibres to heal properly by breaking up the pattern of scar tissue and properly aligning the muscle fibres. Aligning the muscles fibres ensures that they will heal with optimum strength and pliability to minimize your chances of future re-injury.

It’s important that any pain when gradually returning to running is closely monitored and managed intelligently. Be sure to start slow, gently warm up and be diligent about post-run stretching . Once proper healing has taken place, strengthening of the affected muscles as well as the surrounding muscles will help to make you more resilient to another injury .

Just to reiterate, early detection and treatment of minor muscle pulls is vital to avoid experiencing a complete grade 3 muscle pull. Tears of this magnitude require surgery to reattach the torn muscle fibres. Surgery would be followed by a longer rehabilitation period of up to 6 months where there would not be much if any running on the menu.

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