Some Muscle Facts:
The Largest Muscle: Gluteus Maximus (buttock)
The Longest muscle: Sartorius (located on the front of your thigh)
The Smallest muscle: Stapedius and at less than 2mm long it is also the shortest muscle in your body (Located in the inner ear)
Did you know you have more than 600 muscles in your body? And we need them to do pretty much everything from talking, eating, breathing, laughing, moving and of course keeping your blood pumping.
But not all muscle is the same. There are 3 different types of muscle in our body.
Skeletal Muscle: This is the type of muscle most of us will be familiar with because we can either see or feel almost all of them. It is also known as striated muscle. These are the muscles that we can consciously control and they usually work as a pair in that as one contracts the other relaxes to create both joint stability and movement. Think of your arm. If the biceps contracts then your triceps relaxes allowing your arm to flex at the elbow. However, if you consciously want to straighten your arm then the opposite action occurs in the biceps and triceps muscles. Skeletal muscle is attached to bones by tendons.
Cardiac Muscle: As the name suggests cardiac muscle which is also referred to as myocardium is unique to the heart. You have no voluntary control of the heart muscle and it contracts in response to oxygen demands, exercise and blood pressure regulation.
Smooth muscle: This type of muscle controls your blood vessels, digestive system and is found in the bladder and also the uterus in females. Like smooth muscle it contracts involuntarily in response to the nervous system and does not require any conscious thought. The action of peristalsis is a good example of smooth muscle contraction and relaxation. You are unaware of the intestine contracting and relaxing as it moves food along.
What is a muscle strain?
A pulled muscle or strain occurs when the muscle is torn or overstretched causing damage to part of the muscle fibres.
What causes a muscle strain?
When your muscle is over stretched or is forced to contract against a force that is too strong against it then damage can occur to the muscle fibres. This usually occurs when muscles are tired and/or are subjected to a sudden contraction during sport for example.
Treating a pulled muscle.
Treatment will depend upon the degree and severity of the strain. Severe strains should be seen by your medical expert. Mild strains can be treated at home by the following acronyms PRICE and HARM.
P - Protect against further injury.
R - Rest for the first 48 to 72 hours.
I - Ice the injured muscle for the first 48-72 hours. Take care to ICE correctly by reading my guide to safe icing.
C - Compress the injury to help reduce swelling with a simple elasticated bandage. Take care that the bandage is not too tight, that it does not restrict the blood flow and always remove the bandage prior to going to sleep.
E - Elevate where possible as elevating the injury helps reduce swelling.
To help reduce the inflammation and bleeding and to help you heal quickly you should avoid the following for at least 72 hours after the injury.
H - Heat. Do not use heat packs, hot baths or saunas.
A - Alcohol may increase bleeding and swelling within the injury.
R - Running or any exercise of the injured area.
M - Massage as this may increase the bleeding and swelling within the first stages of the injury.
What is a muscle spasm?
This is also known as a cramp and is when a muscle stays in an involuntary contracted state. The muscle in spasm may feel hard and tender.
What causes a muscle spasm?
Cramps or spasms are quite common and usually occur in response to overuse and fatigue. Dehydration is also thought to make a muscle spasm more likely to occur.
Treating a muscle spasm.
The cramp will usually come on quickly during physical activity. Gentle stretching and massage of the muscle will usually help settle the spasm and heat may also help the muscle fibres to relax. Rehydrating is also important but consider using rehydrating sports type drinks as these not only contain the necessary fluid but also vital electrolytes and minerals such as potassium.
Can I prevent it happening?
Well correctly warming up and stretching prior to the physical activity and staying hydrated are good preventative measures. Remember that by the time you feel thirsty you are already on the path to being dehydrated so it is good practice to be hydrated before you actually start your activity.
What is a muscle knot?
Well firstly muscles can’t actually tie themselves up in knots but when an area of muscle tissue within the muscle becomes contracted and does not relax and adheres to adjacent connective tissue layers then this area of muscle will begin to feel tender and hard like a knot in a piece of rope.
What causes a muscle knot?
Ever heard the term “I’ve a knot between my shoulders”? Well a ‘knot’ usually develops due to bad posture but stress and dehydration are also thought to be responsible. This may occur for example by sitting incorrectly at a computer which causes tension within the shoulder muscles.
How to treat a knotted muscle.
Massage, stretching, keeping well hydrated and adopting a good posture will all help reduce or prevent knots. An Osteopath or Physiotherapist would also be able to assist.
Muscle spasm, cramps, strains, pulls and knots are not usually due to serious underlying conditions but you should always seek the diagnosis of a qualified medical practitioner.
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