12-Step Protocol for Healing Muscle Strains


Strains and sprains take time to repair, and can easily become chronically recurring injuries. So don’t ignore them, make sure they heal well the the first time.

Follow the steps carefully, and move backwards in the sequence if symptoms recur.

Please see a doctor if you’re in severe pain, or if you don’t get better.

1. Immobilize for a few hours up to several days. You’ll know if you can start moving carefully because the pain is not as sharp, it’s more a dull ache. You know that moving is a mistake if it hurts a lot, and feels better when you keep still. So keep still until it feels better!

2. Once is does, move around carefully. If it’s a leg, don’t put weight on it, if it’s an arm, don’t carry anything with it. Just move it through the range of motion that is allowed. Let yourself be guided by the pain, and MOVE VERY SLOWLY until you know the allowed range of motion. Move the limb around several times a day, but very carefully.

3. Don’t work through the pain, work around the pain. Always. In this acute state, the pain is there for good reason, and the reason is to tell you when you risk further injury.

4. When range of motion work is ok within the allowed range, and you feel a bit more stable, usually after another couple of days (or hours, if it was just a tiny strain), you can add a bit of weight. Just a bit, not your full body weight. If it’s a hand, just carry a coffee cup. Move through range of motion with a little bit of weight.

5. If you’re fine, and this was a “just a few hours” kind of thing, you’re good to go back to your normal life. If it starts hurting again, assume it’s worse and give it a few days of rest, then progress more slowly from Step 2.

6. If this is a more serious injury, you’re on day 6-8 now. Be very careful getting into Step 7, and move a step back as soon as you feel more pain.

7. Start careful strength exercises for the affected limb. Very little weight. Just do something for 10 minutes a day, otherwise just range of motion. See how you feel the next day. If it gets worse, practice for half the amount of time, with even less or no weight.

8. Day 10-14: Add stretches. Yes, this is how long you waited. If you really had a muscle tear, it takes a while to truly build the necessary scar tissue to keep the wound closed, and to make it stable. Yes, you’ll lose some flexibility that way, and you moved through the range of motion before to make sure you don’t lose too much. Now you can start stretching the injured area. Carefully, of course. Don’t work through the pain, work around the pain. Use static stretches first, so you are in control, and you can relax into it. Best if you can find a way to stretch passively, just have the limb lengthened, and lie there and relax for 5-10 minutes. There should be no sharp pain–you don’t want to rip that freshly healed tissue open again, do you?

9. I don’t know what day we’re on. You understand that we can only move forward if the injury is feeling better, right? So now add dynamic stretches. Otherwise go back to Step 7. Just even more carefully.

10. You’re still doing strength training, right? You just added the dynamic stretches. Now add coordination. Do weird things crossing legs and arms, try jogging backwards, sideways, crossing your legs different ways, jump over small obstacles, run slalom. If it’s your arm or shoulder, learn juggling, play drums. I’m serious. You want to make sure your proprioception correctly maps out the injured limb, your brain knows exactly where which body part is.

11. Now you can get back to normal training.

12. Yes, this took a long time. You shouldn’t be surprised that so many athletes have problems with recurring injuries–they never take the time to heal them.

Please let us know in the comments how this works for you!

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