Properly functioning muscles perform only one duty, contraction. Muscles enable the body to sit, to move and to stand upright. They are attached by way of tendons to bones. Their contraction is controlled by electrical signals that can either be voluntary, such as when a person decides to stand up, or involuntary, as with the muscles that expand and contract the chest to control breathing. Muscles are made of thousands of muscle fibers. Knowing the types of injuries to these muscle fibers can help with treatment decisions.
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A strain occurs when the muscle tissue is stretched or torn. Part of the injury may also involve the connecting tendon. Muscle tears that are serious may require surgery. The recommended treatment for strains is guided by the acronym RICE. The letters stand for rest, ice, compress with a bandage or wrap and elevate. Elevating the strained muscle and putting ice on the injury helps to slow or stop the swelling that can result from a strained muscle. Sometimes this type of injury is referred to as a sprain but a sprain is actually an injury to tendons. A strained muscle is also referred to as a pulled muscle.
A contusion on a muscle occurs as the result of an impact. A bruise develops as blood pools at the impact site. As with strains, the affected muscle should be allowed to rest. Ice should be applied to the site of the contusion. A bandage should be wrapped around the injury and the affected muscle should be elevated.
A muscle cramp occurs when the muscle forcibly contracts and will not relax. Cramps can occur in any muscle controlled by voluntary action. They can be very painful and last from about 15 seconds to several minutes. The risk of a cramp can be reduced by warming up and stretching before exercising.
A rupture is a separation of muscle tissue. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, this is a rare injury that usually occurs with weight lifting. There may be an audible snap as the muscle separates. There can be pain, swelling and distortion of the muscle with this injury. Surgery yields improved results as a treatment for a rupture but is not recommended for the elderly or for sedentary patients.