Muscle strains, also known as pulled muscles, are prevalent among athletes. Studies show, in soccer players, muscle strains account for about 25% of lower extremity injuries. The muscles surrounding the hip are most often affected and of those, about 70% involve the hamstring.
A strain occurs when a muscle is excessively stretched while still contracted. Soccer players typically strain their muscle when sprinting, rapidly decelerating, kicking or stretching to reach the ball. The muscle is injured at the junction where the muscle and tendon meet.
Not all strains are created equal and recovery times vary. Some strains, such as a grade 2 strain may take 8-10 weeks to fully recover. A grade 3 strain may require surgical attention. Muscle strains are graded on the amount of muscle tissue stressed and the resulting symptoms.
After a strain, the muscle is compromised and prone to further injury. Depending on the severity it may be advisable to rest from athletic activity and visit your physician or physical therapist to determine when it is safe to return to playing. For immediate treatment, athletes should rely on RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Crutches, which keep weight off the injury, provide additional relief.
Studies have also shown individuals with more flexibility or length in their muscles are less likely to suffer a strain. Prevention includes stretching and eccentric muscle strengthening, such as Nordic hamstring exercises.