A: The fact that I’m answering this question obviously means you’re injured and that just sucks. I’m sorry, buddy.

Before we talk about how you heal and when you’re ready to train again, I first want to give you an understanding of what a strain is — so you and other readers can better avoid and/or manage this type of injury in the future.

A strain is caused by twisting, tearing, or pulling a muscle or tendon (hence the term: “I pulled a muscle”). This can be caused by an injury, such as a blow to the body, improper heavy lifting, or overstressing the muscles. Strains can also be caused by overuse from prolonged, repetitive movement of the muscles and tendons.

That said, your best bet to avoid a strain is to use proper form when lifting. Always perform a cardio warmup before your workout. Cross train to avoid repetitive motion and overuse of tendons or muscles. Be smart and ask for help when attempting to lift something or perform a tough, physical task.

Now, in order to answer your question and determine when it’s okay for you to return to your workouts, let’s go over the types of strains you may have sustained. There are three categories of strains:

Grade 1 Strain: This is a mild strain. Only part of the muscle fibers have been damaged. Healing occurs in roughly two weeks.

Grade 2 Strain: This is a moderate strain. There is more with more damage to muscle fibers than grade 1, but the muscle is not completely ruptured. Healing occurs within three to six weeks.

Grade 3 Strain: This is a complete rupture of the muscle, which is far more serious of an injury than a grade 1 or 2. The healing period can take up to three months.

The following are strain symptoms to help alert you if you are suffering with this injury: bruising, redness, muscle pain when at rest, or weakness of the muscle.

One of the best things you can do to aid in healing — so you can get back to working out again — is to manage the injuryimmediately after you sustain it with RICE, which stands for rest, ice (20 minutes for every hour when you are awake), compression, and elevation (try to keep an injured muscle at your heart level). This will help reduce swelling and prevent blood pool, which is critical to the healing process.

Several days after the injury you can take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen (with your doctor’s permission) — but it’s not advisable to take it for the first few days after you are injured. This is because these drugs function as blood thinners and can inhibit blood clotting and increase swelling.

Overall, here is my best advice. If you heard a "popping" sound with the injury, can’t walk, or there was significant swelling, pain, fever, or open cuts, it’s most likely you sustained a grade 3 strain. In this case, I hope you were examined in a hospital's emergency department immediately. If you were sore and injured, but not to the extent mentioned above and you followed the RICE protocol the injury should have healed within two weeks. Again, this is presuming you rested and didn’t exacerbate the injury. If after two weeks you didn’t notice improvement, then it’s likely you sustained a grade 2 strain. In this case, I’d recommend that you check in with a physical therapist. Although there isn’t much more they can do than what was mentioned above you might want to try ultra sound treatment or muscle stem to help release endorphins and reduce inflammation, which promotes healing.

Not knowing the grade of strain you had or how you managed it, I’d just encourage you to hold off on working out until after you’ve properly healed and experience no pain in the injured area. When you do return to your exercise regimen, you should work out to the intensity that you can perform with good form and without sharp pain. If you’ve been out of commission for a while, I’d recommend using lighter weights and working yourself back up to your previous level regardless. Just remember, chances are you got injured from pushing it harder than you where ready for to begin with, so listen to your body and make sure to follow all the tips mentioned above for prevention!

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