How to make sure you get the best recovery after a muscle injury

Skeletal muscles make up nearly half of our total bodyweight, so it should be no surprise that muscle injuries are amongst the most common occurring in sports. Some of the Northern Beaches’ most popular pastimes are muscle injury magnets, with rugby league, AFL, volleyball and surfing making up the bulk of culprits.

Muscle injuries are either ‘indirect’ or ‘direct’

A direct muscle injury is caused by an external blow or force, commonly during a collision with another person (think a tackle in rugby league) or by being struck with an object like a cricket ball. Direct injuries can cause dislocations and bone fractures and usually leave clues like haematomas and bruises to gauge how serious they are.

An indirect injury does not result from physical contact with an object or person, but from internal forces commonly caused by over-stretching, poor technique, fatigue and lack of fitness.

What do I do if I suffer a muscle injury?

The immediate management of muscular injuries during the acute inflammatory phase is very important for successful rehab.

First aid for muscle injuries follows the RICER principle. The objective of RICER is to stop the injury-induced bleeding into the muscle tissue and thereby minimise the extent of the injury.


  • R for Rest
  • I for Ice
  • C for Compression
  • E for Elevation
  • R for Referral

If you follow the RICER method, you’ll go a long way to:

  • preventing further tissue damage
  • minimising swelling
  • easing pain
  • reducing the formation of scar tissue
  • reducing the time needed for rehabilitation.

What shouldn’t I do if I have a muscle injury?

During the first 48–72 hours after an injury there are certain things that must be avoided.

These include:

  • Applying heat to the injury – No hot rubs, saunas and or baths
  • drinking alcohol
  • partaking in more physical activity or
  • a massage.

All of these actions will increase blood flow, and therefore bleeding and swelling. [1]

Don’t immobilise the affected area for too long

A few days of immobilisation to limit haemorrhage and oedema formation can provide time for your muscles to heal and regain strength for your rehab.

Prolonged immobilisation, while it might feel ‘comfortable’ at the time, could alter the biomechanical properties of the muscle-tendon unit, shrink healthy muscle fibres and substantially delay recovery of the injured skeletal muscle By restricting the length of immobilisation to a period of less than a week, the adverse effects of immobility per se can be minimised.[2]

If you still feel like you can’t move properly after a few days, it’s time to bring in your local physio.

How do muscles heal?

Injured skeletal muscle heals by a repair process as opposed to fractured bone heals by a regenerative process. This means that when muscle tissues are being repaired, they will heal with a scar, which replaces the original tissue, whereas when a bone regenerates, the healing tissue is identical to the tissue that existed there before.[3]

The healing of an injured skeletal muscle follows a fairly constant pattern irrespective of the underlying cause and musculoskeletal physiotherapists are the experts in rehab after a muscle tear.

Avoiding re-ruptures is one of the most important concepts of rehab and it has been shown that re-ruptures are actually the most severe skeletal muscle injuries causing the greatest amount of time lost from sporting activity.

If you have a muscle injury or pain, don’t walk it off; give us a call on give us a call on (02) 8964 4086 or book an appointment at




[1] Jarvinen M & Lehto MUK. The effect of early mobilization and immobilization on the healing process

following muscle injuries. Sports Medicine 1993; 15: 78–89.

[2] Järvinen TAH, Järvinen TLN, Kääriäinen M, Äärimaa V, Vaittinen S, Kalimo H, Järvinen M. Muscle injuries: optimising recovery. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2007;21(2):317–31.

[3] Jarvinen TAH, Jarvinen TLN, Kaariainen M et al. Biology of muscle trauma. American Journal of Sports

Medicine 2005; 33: 745–766.

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