Joint and Muscle Injury

Most people will experience a joint or muscle injury at some time in their life. They happen when we least expect it. It could be misjudging a step, playing sport, twisting suddenly. How the injury happened as well as signs and symptoms all help your physiotherapist determine the type and extent of the injury.

Examples include a calf or hamstring strain, or a sprained ankle, meniscus tear in the knee, or tendinitis of the elbow.

Muscle injuries (strains) and joint injuries (sprains) are broadly graded into three categories. Grade 1 (mild - disruption of a few fibres but no significant loss of stability or strength), Grade 2 (moderate – more disruption of fibres and more pain and swelling) and Grade 3 (severe/complete tear of muscle or ligament).

The approach taken by your physiotherapist will be determined by the severity of the injury. A more severe injury may require immobilisation, whereas with a mild injury “relative rest” may be encouraged rather than to stop moving.

You do not require a referral to see a physiotherapist as a private patient for any injury.
If there is any need for prescription medication or imaging, it is best that you see your doctor following a joint or muscle injury.

Whether or not you need an x-ray, ultrasound, CT scan or MRI scan, is determined by the severity of the injury and your symptoms. With mild or even with some significant injuries there is often no need to rush imaging. It is often appropriate to watch and wait. If there are any concerns about further damage occurring or poor response to time or treatment, then your physiotherapist will liaise with your doctor about appropriate imaging and medication.

There are lots of things your physio can do to facilitate the healing process (keeping in mind that the actual healing is done by your body with the passage of time, not by any therapist).

This includes early advice about crutches, using bandaging or taping, ice and compression, rest and medication. Massage, ultrasound and gentle mobilisation may also be used early on. As you improve, exercises may be prescribed for regaining strength and flexibility. Your physiotherapist will advise you if further tests or imaging are required.

If the sprain or strain occurred for no apparent reason (it just “went”), it is important to examine the possible cause – this could be an imbalance in muscle length or strength, or sports technique which is putting strain on joints and needs correcting. For example, you may tend to over-utilize calf muscles instead of gluteal muscles when running, leading to calf strain or cramping.

A common mistake is to accept an improvement in strength and condition of about 75%, and then expect to return to previous level of activity. Unfortunately, the joint or muscle is at risk of re-spraining. A return to activity which matches your level of rehabilitation is much safer. A sensible example is a tennis player who starts with exercises, then drills, then a return to social competition before pennant competition.

At Macquarie Street Physiotherapy, your physiotherapist will assist not only recovery from injury, but prevention of recurrence.