Behind the Bench

Don Winsor
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Watch those muscle pulls

Nice to receive some positive comments on the theme of common sports injuries. I’m trying to make this mini-series as basic as possible so the youngest athlete might get something from it — to both improve performance and get them back into the game, fit and ready to compete.

To that end, I suggest parents, coaches, and trainers sit down with the young ones and discuss the various injuries as they unfold. Of course, the best cure is an ounce of prevention, but when that fails we should be ready to treat our injuries in the most efficient way to ensure proper healing.

A pulled muscle is an actual tear of muscle fibers and is characterized by sudden, localized, and persistent pain in a muscle that is being stressed. Even though there are 500 muscles, less than five per cent are commonly injured. When a muscle starts to tear it will really hurt. When you develop a sudden sharp pain in a muscle, stop exercising immediately. If you attempt to continue exercising  you will cause further damage to the muscle fibers and prolong the healing time.

Pulled muscles are caused as a result of more tension being applied to a muscle than it can bear. As a general rule, the more severe the pain, the more extensive the injury. Some common causes include:

Insufficient Warm-Up: Your muscles are stiff and tight, and therefore prone to injury. Before playing a sport you should warm-up for at least 10 minutes.

Poor Flexibility: Every time you exercise hard, your muscles are slightly damaged. With healing, they shorten and, like a tight violin string, are more prone to tearing unless you have restored the flexibility by stretching.

Overtraining: Every tine you exercise intensely, your muscles are slightly damaged. If you exercise intensely again before your muscles have had time to heal, you are much more likely to injure them.

Muscle Imbalance: Every muscle that moves a limb in one direction has an opposing muscle that moves it in the other direction. If one muscle is much stronger than the other, it can overpower and damage the weaker one.

Mineral Deficiency: Lack of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and other minerals can predispose or hasten a muscle injury.

Structural Abnormality: Certain structural abnormalities, such as flat feet, unequal arm length, or deep curve in the back, have the effect of putting excess stress on a particular muscle and make the muscle more likely to be injured.

Poor Training Methods: All training programs should include gradual increases in workload, speed, and resistance. Rapid increase in these factors often lead to more stress than a muscle can handle, and thus results in an injury.

“I suggest parents, coaches, and trainers sit down with the young ones and discuss the various injuries as they unfold.”

Trauma: Stepping into a hole or being hit by someone can cause excess muscle stress and consequent injury.

Lack of an Adequate Endurance Program: Rhythmic endurance exercises thicken the muscles, tendons, and ligaments and make them more resistant to injury.

There is no medication that will make your muscles heal faster. The immediate treatment for a muscle pull is ice. One should discontinue the ice compression in 24 hours or less. If the ice causes the skin to hurt, stop the treatment at that time. But, as long as there is swelling, elevation should be continued.

Most doctors, physiotherapists, and trainers recommend the use of heat 48 hours after the pull has occurred. Heat dilates the blood vessels and increases the blood supply, which brings increased amounts of nutrients to the injured area. Having said the above, please remember the best advice of all, especially if the pain in the injured area continues, is to see your doctor for more advanced treatment.

A quick comment on muscle cramps. This type of muscle injury is very painful and results from sustained contractions of all the fibers in a muscle. They can last for just a few seconds or continue for several hours. Any muscle can cramp. The cramp can be so mild that you will only feel a slight muscle twitch, or so severe that it can break a bone. Although cramps can occur during sleep (take my word on that), they usually occur during intense exercise. No athlete or fitness buff in any sport is immune to this common condition.

A common cause for muscle cramps, to be added to the list above, would be hyperventilating, or breathing too fast when it is not necessary. This prevents the body from using calcium.

Next week we shall take a look at ruptures and fractures.

That’s 30 for this week. Remember, “It’s easier to build a child than mend an adult and an ounce of pluck is worth a ton of luck!” Until next week.

Don Winsor is a former recreation administrator now living in Happy Adventure. He can be reached at (709) 677-2422 (voice/fax), by mail at Box 26, Site 6, Happy Adventure, NL, A0G-1Z0, or by email at


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