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Muscle strain

The Healing Process of a Muscle Strain

A muscle strain (tear) occurs when a muscle is stretched suddenly or too far (over-stretched). Some fibres will tear and bleeding will occur in the muscle. This happens when the fibres contract too quickly or stretch beyond their physical limit. It is common during exercise, and mostly occurs in skeletal muscle. The severity of a strain is categorised into three grades, depending on the seriousness of the injury. Grade 1 tears are the most common. They occur when there is slight damage to a small proportion of the muscle fibres; usually less than 5% of fibres are affected. Typically, the muscle may shorten and may lose extensibility, and requires repair.


The healing process of a minor tear consists of three stages: inflammatory, proliferative and remodelling. At stage one, inflammation occurs at the torn site to protect the area from further damage. During inflammation, blood pools into the injured space to form a protective clot, which will produce swelling around the damaged area. Chemicals and cells that repair torn tissue and remove dead fibres flood into the area at an accelerated rate via the blood stream. This process can last between two to five days and requires complete rest.


At stage two (proliferation), the damaged site is cleaned and repaired by cells. According to Marieb (2003) normally within an hour after inflammation occurs, neutrophils are squeezing through the capillary walls to enter the area and begin the clean-up detail by engulfing damaged or dead tissue cells. Neutrophil cells clear away dead muscle fibres, myoblasts repair the area with newly formed tissue and fibroblasts build strong collagen fibres that reattach and pull torn fibre ends firmly together. This matrix forms scar tissue, which increases the strength of the fibres and makes tissue more resistant to further over-stretching. This process can normally take up to 48 hours.


The body’s response to the micro-damage is to initiate remodelling or rebuilding of the tissue. At stage three, remodelling occurs to reconstruct the damaged fibres into their original pre-damaged state. Collagen fibres form scar tissue along the outer lines of the damaged fibres to start the remodelling process. During this process, the muscle fibres activate again and eventually mould to resemble their original pre-injured shape.

All things considered, regeneration of a minor muscle strain can typically take between two to three weeks to complete. When a stain is treated using the PRICE (Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) principle, the healing process may be accelerated


Always warm up and do dynamic stretching prior to a main workout.

Do NOT stretch if you have a muscle tear. Stretching the fibres will tear them further. Ouch!

Avoid any exercise. Contracting muscles that are healing may cause further injury.

If the pain is severe, movement is very limited and there is a lot of bruising and discolouration, this could indicate a more severe grade of injury. Seek medical advice immediately.