NFL Injury Series- Muscle Strain

An overview of general muscle strains, grade severities, and recovery times.

The Buffalo Bills training camp continues to roll right along with no major injuries to report. The only reported injuries so far is TE Nick O’Leary who suffered an ankle injury which kept him out of practice for a short time but did not appear to be anything serious as he was able to return to full practice after several days rest. TE Logan Thomas was limited in practice but no further updates have been released regarding his current injury.

As we continue with the NFL injury series, today’s post will consist of identifying several terms used to describe injuries and educate on how to differentiate on what is being reported. I have used many of these terms before and have done my best to describe them, but I believe they are worthy of their own article. Today’s overviews will consist of the common muscle strain.

A muscle strain can occur in virtually any muscle within the body if the muscle is suddenly overworked, stretched, or fatigued to the point where the muscle becomes injured. A strain is classified as a strain due to an injury to the muscle itself or the muscle bone attachment which is called the tendon. There are varying grades of muscle strains which can progress up to a muscle tear, avulsion fracture, or rupture.

Grade 1 muscle strains are relatively minor and is when a small portion of the muscle is torn; function may be limited, but is typically not serious and can heal up relatively quickly with proper management. This usually consists of stretching, icing, anti-inflammatory medications, and light strengthening exercises to restore proper movement. With effective management, this can be a day-to-day injury with some lasting up to a week or two. Most of these injuries are able to be played through with proper rehab and rest.

Grade 2 muscle strains are where a moderate portion of the muscle is torn which is typically associated with bruising, swelling, and partial loss of function which is demonstrated as difficulty performing the muscle movement and is typically limited secondary to pain. Rehab management will consist of generally the same procedures as Grade 1, but will require a longer duration to recover. I can not make a blanket statement and state that a Grade 2 muscle strain will take “X” number of weeks to heal up. It is typically more than week-to-week, but based on location and job duties of the position may dictate how long the player is out.

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Credit: eorthopod.com

If a Grade 1 or 2 muscle strain occurs close to the tendon attachment, if not healed up correctly or chronically injured/overused, the muscle or tendon may develop into a tendinitis based on healing. The suffix “-itis” is Latin for inflammation, which indicates that the tendon is irritated and may become painful over time. Most muscle/tendon fibers have consistent, linear striations, such as in a nice cut of beef or in the picture above. When the tendon does not heal correctly, the connective tissue heals in an uneven pattern as seen in the picture below. This does not allow for effective contraction of the tendon, leading to increased pain, weakness, and loss of function. This could lead to tendonosis which is the chronic form of tendinitis and becomes even more difficult to treat. Eventually, this can lead to a higher risk of rupture in the tendon later but is not a requirement for a rupture to occur.

tendinosis-chronic-injury.jpg
Credit: mendmeshop.com

However, when a severe muscle strain occurs, this is classified as Grade 3. This is where most of the muscle is torn, there is typically significant damage and surgery is possibly required to repair the structural damage. There is significant swelling, bruising, and pain to the area due to the sudden and forceful nature of the injury. The muscle no longer is able to function as intended and pain limits the possibility to attempt. At this point, several other injuries may have occurred including an avulsion fracture or ruptures. If an avulsion fracture or rupture has not occurred, surgery still many be indicated to assist the muscle in healing correctly.

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Credit: physicaltherapyct.com

In the case of an avulsion fracture, the tendon that attaches the muscle to the bone and acts as the anchor pulls away from the attachment point and takes a chunk of the bone with it. While this injury is uncommon, it still does happen. Surgery is sometimes indicated to reattach the bone to the original area and requires extended time missed, requiring the body to build up toleration to the muscle pulling on the attachment point without re-injuring the area.

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Credit: tylerfootclinic.com

Finally, a tendon rupture is when the tendon tears away from the attachment point but does not take a piece of bone with it. This is commonly seen in biceps and Achilles’ injuries, among other areas. If this injury occurs, the player may feel a pop with immediate loss of function. The muscle may act like a bungee cord and rebound violently and become balled up, leading to a deformity. These types of injuries also require surgery and cause a player to miss extended time due to the requirements of the muscle contraction and the actions of the muscle. As there are a variety of potential tendon ruptures and recovery times, it is difficult to state a general timeline without having specific information.

This is just a brief overview of the muscle strain and how to understand the various nuances of the wording and injury. Sometimes injuries such as calf and hamstring strains can appear to follow a player for their career or never fully heal without significant rest. The best thing that a player can do is hydrate well, stretch effectively, strengthen properly, and listen to their bodies. While the NFL is a tough sport, pain is expected, but trying to play through an injury may only worsen it and cause further complications down the line.

This completes another article in the NFL injury series as we prepare for pre-season games and the regular season. There is much more to come regarding the common injuries we will inevitably see over the next several weeks. Continue to check back for posts regarding other general injuries and broaden your knowledge base. Follow on Twitter @BangedUpBills and at http://www.bangedupbills.com. As always, thank you for reading and GO BILLS!!

Author: Dr. Trimble

My name is Dr. Kyle Trimble and I am, first and foremost, a Buffalo Bills fan!! When I am not cheering on the Buffalo Bills, I am a Physical Therapist. To give a background on myself; I was born and raised in Erie, PA, moved to Buffalo in 2006 to begin my studies at D'Youville College towards becoming a Physical Therapist at which time I became a devoted Buffalo Bills fan.  I graduated in 2013 with my Doctorate in Physical Therapy and moved home for several years. Moving back to the Buffalo area in 2016, I have gained extensive experience in outpatient orthopedics, skilled nursing, acute care hospital, and home care. Having obtained a significant wealth of knowledge that continues to grow, along with a undying fandom of the Bills, puts me in the unique position to educate my fellow fans about our great team. 
I am currently an injury spotter working with Dr. David Chao, Orthopedic Surgeon @ProFootballDoc based out of San Diego. In this role, I provide real time updates regarding injuries during the game. I hope you enjoy what I publish and I welcome any comments or questions you may have.
Disclaimer: My opinions are my own.  Any thoughts I have on the injuries is based on media reports, my knowledge of the injury, and speculation based on the information currently available.


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