You’ve probably experienced a muscle pull or cramp — that sharp stabbing pain in a muscle that wakens you from a deep sleep or trips up your run.

Muscle strains (muscle pull or tear) usually happen when a muscle is stretched beyond its limit. The muscle tissue becomes torn during an activity such as sprinting or kicking a ball. They frequently occur near the point where the muscle joins the tough, fibrous connective tissue of the tendon. A similar injury occurs if there is a direct blow to the muscle.

The hamstring and quadriceps muscle groups are particularly at risk for muscle strains because they cross both the hip and knee joints. Additionally,they are also used for high-speed activities, such as track and field events (running, hurdles, long jump), football, basketball, and soccer. Thigh strain is a tear in a thigh muscle, and depending on its severity it is classified as a first, second or third degree strain

What is a cramp?

A cramp is a sudden contraction or tightening of a muscle that usually lasts a few seconds to a few minutes. The involuntary contractions of one or more muscles is what causes muscle cramps and you will in most cases experience them in the leg. However, hand or foot spasms, as well as cramps in the feet, arms and abdomen are also common.

What do I do when I have a cramped muscle?

For immediate relief, stretch the muscle gently and massage it to help the muscle relax. Additionally, applying heat to the cramp when the spasm begins can also help.

“Muscle cramps and spasms are often a part of the body’s normal stress response. Therefore, try  to figure out what is triggering the pain hence the spasm and you’ll be five steps closer to relieving your spasms. Identifying and addressing the underlying cause is the best long-term approach.

Triggers for muscle cramps

Cramps or spasms in the muscles often have no clear cause. However, if they are keeping you up at night or interrupting your workout, explore these four common reasons:

1. Dehydration
Dehydration is a classic cause of cramps. Hot weather and exercise further deplete water in the body as you sweat to keep cool.

2. Sitting or standing

Muscles were made to move, so being sedentary for long periods of time can lead to cramping.
People who have long commutes or sedentary jobs often spend long periods with muscles locked in unnatural positions. In that case, part of the treatment plan is to find ways to create breaks in the day and optimize ergonomics in order to relieve tension.

3. Overuse of muscle

If you go on a long bike ride or do an intense workout, you might experience cramping. When the nerves running from the brain and spinal cord down to the muscle become overexcited, the muscle can respond by cramping. If you increase the intensity of your exercise routine too quickly, your muscles aren’t used to the new movement and that can trigger cramping as well.

4. Mineral deficiency

Electrolytes and other minerals are crucial to keeping your body balanced and free from cramps and spasms. In some cases, a lack of magnesium, calcium, sodium or potassium can contribute to cramping. Check your diet. Including bananas, nuts, sweet potatoes, spinach and yogurt — which are replete in these minerals — can help.

Talk with your physiotherapist if your muscle cramps are consistent, last a long time or are extremely severe.
Bottom line
So basically what you experience in your thigh at night or when you’re playing in the field is not a muscle pull but a muscle cramp due to spasmed muscle in your thighs.

A pulled muscle or a muscle strain can range from mild moderate to severe depending on the extent of the injury to the muscle and the chances to a full recovery is greatly determined by how early the treatment has started. Your physiotherapist can help in identifying all these.

1. Physiopedia
2. Physioclinic

Written By:
Sharanya Thomas
Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Health Centre

Muscle Pull Or Cramp, Which Is Which?

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