It starts with an “ouch” … and ends with several days of tenderness and pain.
Oh, the joys of a pulled muscle!
We’ve all been there at some point in our lives, whether as an athlete or doing something as simple as moving furniture. Typically, we explain the phenomenon of the pulled muscle as the result of moving the wrong way, or overextending (aka: pulling) a specific muscle … but there is more to the case than this!
Here we dive into what exactly causes pulled muscles (so you can prevent them in the future) along with what to do when you have one.
What Exactly Is A “Pulled” Muscle?
A pulled muscle usually happens when our connective tissues are asked to either shorten or lengthen with a specific amount of force that is usually more than the capacity of that muscle or tissue to absorb or produce.
Now, while a deep tear in a muscle can be considered a serious injury, most of the time when we “pull” a muscle, we have simply over-strained a muscle that was either compensating for another weak muscle, a muscle that was too stiff, or one that was under-hydrated.
Often (and especially if we haven’t been doing much mobility and flexibility work) certain muscles in our bodies can become stiff and unable to rotate through their full range of movement. When this happens and you accidentally force that muscle through the full movement, you are likely to experience a strain in that muscle, in the same way that if you pushed too deep into a stretch, you would feel pain in the muscle that can’t stretch any further.
In addition, muscles and ligaments that aren’t well-hydrated through both mobility work (which keeps everything lubricated) and drinking enough water and consuming enough healthy fatty acids, can become less elastic and more prone to strains and microscopic tears.
And finally, if one of your muscles is over-compensating for a weak muscle, it can easily become over-worked and fatigued, which can lead to a strain if it is pushed to far. This is one of the reasons that we recommend strengthening any weak muscles that could be causing strain to others, as this can greatly help prevent strains!
The Best Cure For A Pulled Muscle
“Curing” a pulled muscle is essentially a 3-step process. below we lay out what you should do immediately after pulling a muscle, all the way up to what you should do to prevent the next one.
1. Give Your Muscle Time To Recover
Essentially, you want to rest the area around where you pulled your muscle and allow your body to go through the inflammation process, which takes roughly 24-48 hours. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t move and need to stay in bed (dang it!), but it simply means you should just take it easy and do some light movement like walking.
You can also use this time to do several Epsom salt soaks in the tub, as magnesium is fantastic for easing soreness and reducing inflammation. Alternatively, you can also apply magnesium oil topically (check your health food store) on the muscle.
2. Begin Mobility Training
After you’ve rested and allowed your muscle to go through the inflammation process, you should begin moving areas of your body adjacent to the pulled muscle.
For instance, if you pulled a muscle in your hamstrings, try to do some mobility work involving your quadriceps. This encourages blood flow and nutrients to shuttle to the pulled muscle without directly stretching or working it, which assists in repair.
If you need help with specific mobility moves to not only help repair and prevent pulled muscles, but also supercharge your overall mobility and strength, download the 14-Day FREE Trial of the Durable Athlete App here.
3. Strengthen The Weak Area
Circling back around to why pulled muscles occur in the first place, it’s important to understand what areas or muscles surrounding the pulled muscle are weak (or overworked), so that you can strengthen them to prevent a future injury. Aside from lack of flexibility and lubrication, pulled muscles can also occur when they are compensating for another, weaker muscle.
When one muscle is weak and the surrounding muscles are stronger, we can unconsciously lean on the strong muscle to compensate for the weak one, which can lead to a pull, or even injury, in the stronger muscles.
Once your pulled muscle is nearly recovered, focus on strengthening the area that may be weak through various mobility exercises. Again, the DA App is fantastic for finding specific exercises you can do!
Also, give us a follow over on Insta, where we regularly share our favorite mobility exercises!
Other Tips For Dealing With Pulled Muscles, Inflammation, and Soreness
Below are several other tips and tricks you can use to help accelerate healing and ease soreness either from a pulled muscle or intense workout:
• Hydrate. Make sure you’re consuming enough water and liquids throughout your day (typically we need more than we think we do) AND be sure you’re eating enough healthy fats. Healthy fats assist with full-body lubrication, and especially in your joints and tendons. Get in a serving with each meal, such as virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, ghee, and fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel.
• Awareness and intention. Focus on cultivating more awareness and intention into how you move your body when working out or doing daily activities (this is where finding a resource or coach to help you understand how to best move is very helpful). Your postures throughout the day either put your muscles and joints in a position of advantage or disadvantage. Most often, injuries are a result of accumulated stress in an area, so if we are being proactive about not putting excess and unwanted stress upon a specific set of tissues, then we are doing everything we can to stay ahead of breakdown.
• Eat more quality foods. While many people want to cut calories during healing to avoid weight gain, your body actually requires more calories when it is in the process of repair. Aim to load up on high quality, nutrient-rich foods.
• Get enough sleep. Deep sleep is critical for muscle repair and essential for the healing process. Make sure you’re getting quality sleep and enough hours every night.
• Foam roll. While we don’t recommend foam rolling over a pulled muscle, getting into the habit of foam rolling regularly can help break up tension and stiffness in your muscles, which improves circulation and can prevent injury.
• Try Ginger and Turmeric. Ginger and turmeric contain potent anti-inflammatory compounds that can help ease stiffness and pain in sore and pulled muscles. So in other words: it’s curry time!
• Infrared sauna. Infrared saunas are fantastic for increasing circulation and repairing tissue (we actually just purchased one for our home – they’re THAT good!). Try doing a couple sessions when you’re dealing with a pulled muscle or soreness.
The Bottom Line
Pulled muscles are the result of lack of elasticity and hydration, rather than a “pull” or injury. Weak muscles can also cause compensating muscles to be strained, so focus on adding mobility work and strengthening weak areas.