Muscle tears are a common source of injury and chronic pain in athletes. A person who experiences a muscle tear will frequently describe a popping or snapping sensation as the muscle tears. Pain is sudden and may be severe. The area around the injury may be tender to the touch, with visible bruising if blood vessels are also broken.
Muscle strains usually happen when a muscle is stretched beyond its limit, tearing the muscle fibers. They frequently occur near the point where the muscle joins the tough, fibrous connective tissue of the tendon. A similar injury occurs if there is a direct blow to the muscle. Muscle strains in the thigh can be quite painful.
The severity of injury is classified according to the following grades:
- Grade 1 is a mild strain, with few muscle fibres being torn and usually heals readily within weeks.
- Grade 2 is a moderate strain, with a definite loss in strength.
- Grade 3 is a complete tear of the muscle and often may take months to heal.
Most common locations of muscle tears in the body:
- Shoulder to elbow (Rotator Cuff, biceps and triceps)
- Elbow to wrist region (Extensor/Flexor muscle groups)
- Spine (Trapezius, Latissimus dorsi and Quadratus lumborum)
- Hip to Knee region (Quadriceps, Hamstring, Hip Flexor and Adductors)
- Knee to Ankle (calf / gastrocs and peroneals)
A ligament is the fibrous tissue that connects bones to other bones and provides support to joints. They allow a normal range of movement to occur within a joint, but prevent unwanted movement that would render the joint unstable. In order to fulfil this function, ligaments must possess immense mechanical tensile strength. Ligaments are classified as dense connective tissue, and they consist of a protein substance called collagen. The organisation of collagen fibres gives the ligament its tensile strength.
Another function of ligaments is to provide proprioceptive input to the brain that allows a person to know what position the joints are in, without having to look. This helps to perform the complex coordinated activities needed for sport.
Ligament tears are classified into the following 3 grades:
- Grade 1 injuries involve a stretch of the ligament with microscopic tearing but not macroscopic tearing. Generally, little swelling is present, with little or no functional loss and no joint instability. The patient is able to fully or partially bear weight.
- Grade 2 injuries stretch the ligament with partial tearing, moderate to severe swelling, bruising, moderate functional loss, and mild to moderate joint instability. Patients usually have difficulty bearing weight.
- Grade 3 injuries involve the complete rupture of the ligament, with immediate and severe swelling; bruising; an inability to bear weight; and moderate to severe instability of the joint. Typically, patients cannot bear weight without experiencing severe pain.
Most common locations of ligament tears in the body:
- Shoulder (Acromioclavicular, transverse ligament)
- Elbow ( Medial and Lateral collateral)
- Wrist ( Carpal tunnel)
- Knee (Anterior and Posterior Cruciate/ ACL-PCL, Medial and Lateral Collateral)
- Ankle (Lateral Ankle Ligaments/ Syndesmosis, Deltoid)
Symptoms of Muscle Tears
An athlete who experiences a muscle tear will frequently describe a popping or snapping sensation as the muscle tears. Pain is sudden and may be severe. The area around the injury may be tender with visible bruising. Once a muscle tear occurs, the muscle is vulnerable to re-injury, so it is important to let the muscle heal properly and to follow preventive protocols.
They may shows signs of:
- Swelling, bruising or redness, or open cuts as a consequence of the injury
- Pain at rest
- Pain when the specific muscle or the joint in relation to that muscle is used
- Weakness of the muscle or tendons (A sprain, in contrast, is an injury to a joint and its ligaments.)
- Inability to use the muscle at all
Additional symptoms may include:
- Swelling during the first few hours after injury
- Bruising or discolouration of the injured area over the first few days
- Weakness in your muscle that can persist for weeks
Symptoms of Ligament Tears
With most ligament tears, you feel pain right away at the site of the tear. Often the area starts to swell immediately and may bruise. The immediate area is usually tender to touch, and it hurts to move it.
In more severe sprains, you may hear and/or feel something tear, along with a pop or snap. You will probably have extreme pain at first and will not be able to walk or even put weight on the area involved. Usually, the more pain and swelling you have, the more severe your sprain is and the longer it will take to heal.
Treatments of Muscle & Ligament Tears
Depending on the severity of your tear, it may be managed via both non-surgical and surgical options.
In many cases, the initial treatment for a Grade 1 – 2 injuries is nonsurgical. Treatment options may include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Drugs like ibuprofen and NSAIDs to reduce pain and swelling.
- Chiropractic and Physical Therapy. Specific exercises can restore movement and strengthen your injury.
Flexibility and range-of-motion exercises will include stretching and exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your injury can relieve pain and prevent further injury. This exercise program can be continued anywhere from 3 to 6 months, and usually involves working with a qualified Practitioner.
Your Sports Chiropractor or Physiotherapist may recommend surgery if your pain does not improve with nonsurgical methods or your injury is too severe for conservative care (ie Grade 3 injury).
We believe in a team approach and work closely with your GP & other specialists such as Sports Physicians, Orthopaedic Surgeons as well as Strength & Conditioning specialists to help us return you sooner & more safely to your work, recreational activity or sport.
Today, the surgical technique most commonly used for repairing tears to ligaments and muscle injury is arthroscopy. During arthroscopy, your surgeon inserts a small camera, called an arthroscope, into the area involved. The camera displays pictures on a television screen, and your surgeon uses these images to guide miniature surgical instruments.
Because the arthroscope and surgical instruments are thin, your surgeon can use very small incisions (cuts), rather than the larger incision needed for standard, open surgery.