Overexertion is a common consequence for weekend warriors or those who suddenly become active for a short period of time (like for fall clean-ups or spring gardening). People generally don’t notice any problem during or immediately after the activity. But within 24 to 48 hours, muscle soreness, aches, pain and stiffness can occur.
Aches and pain after overexertion can be associated with sprains and strains. A sprain occurs when a ligament (the tissue structure that connects bones in a joint) is stretched or torn. It can be caused by a fall or twisting of a limb. Sometimes the person will hear a “popping” sound when the ligament is injured.
A strain is caused by twisting or pulling of a muscle or tendon (the tissue that connects muscle to bone). It can occur suddenly or over time, through continuous stress on the affected muscles and tendons.
Treating Aches and Pains From Overexertion
Minor aches and pains from muscle soreness, sprains and strains can often be treated at home. Frank Lupin, M.S., A.T.C., P.E.S., Certified Athletic Trainer with Coordinated Health Rehab Center in Bethlehem, PA, advises following the RICE treatment (rest, ice, compression and elevation):
Rest doesn’t infer avoidance of activity. Instead, Lupin encourages “active” rest. Do some stretching and move around to keep blood flowing to the area and prevent stiffness.
Ice the area once an hour for about 20 minutes at a time. You don’t need a fancy ice pack. You can fill a resealable plastic bag with crushed ice. In a pinch, a frozen bag of veggies will suffice. Avoid heat for at least 48 hours because heat can cause more inflammation. (On the other hand, heat may be appropriate for muscle spasms because the warmth helps the muscles relax.)
Use a compression bandage to wrap the area.
Elevate the injured limb above the heart. If you want to lie down, prop the limb on a pillow.
Mild aches and pain can be treated with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen or aspirin (be sure you don’t have any health problems contraindicating them).
If the injury pain is severe or doesn’t start to go away within 48 hours, see a doctor. Also seek help if you develop significant swelling, numbness or unexplained fever.
For general information about sprains and strains: National Institute Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, http://www.niams.nih.gov
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Hydahl, R., et al., “Effects of Ibuprofen Topical Gel on Muscle Soreness,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, March 2010, Vol. 42, No. 3, pp. 614-621.
Law, Roberta, and Robert Herbert, “Warm-up Reduces Delayed Muscle Soreness but Cool-Down Does Not,” Australian Journal of Physiotherapy, 2007, Vol. 53, No. 2, pp. 91-95.
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