Torn muscle fibre: symptoms, causes, treatment

Torn muscle fibre: symptoms, causes, treatment

With a muscle fiber tear, one or more fibers tear in a muscle. The reason is a strong muscle strain, for example in football or tennis. The muscle fiber tear becomes noticeable with a sudden, stinging pain. The affected muscle can no longer be loaded to the maximum. Read more on the topic here: How does a muscle fiber tear develop? What are the symptoms? What to do in case of torn muscle fibers?

Brief overview

  • Symptoms: sudden, stabbing pain, possibly bruising; loss of strength of the affected muscle, restricted movement
  • Causes: extreme load, e.g. jerky movements, abrupt stopping. Often happens during sports like tennis or football. Risk factors are for example lack of fitness, wrong shoes, muscular imbalances, infections.
  • Diagnosis: Patient interview (anamnesis), physical examination, possibly ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Treatment: Acute measures are resting, cooling, pressure bandage and elevation of the injured body part. The doctor can prescribe painkillers and physiotherapy. In severe cases surgery may be necessary.
  • Prognosis: A torn muscle fibre usually heals without consequences. But this takes several weeks.

Torn muscle fibre: Symptoms

A torn muscle fibre is accompanied by a sudden, knife-like pain. The affected muscle is restricted in its function and can no longer be subjected to maximum load. The patient can no longer continue the sporting activity that led to the injury. The natural course of movement is disturbed. Usually those affected adopt a relieving attitude. If they try to tense the injured muscle against resistance, pain occurs. There is also pressure and stretching pain.

Immediately after the injury, a visible and palpable dent may appear at the affected area – especially if not only muscle fibres have been torn, but the entire muscle has been severed (muscle tear). However, since the tissue usually swells, the dent is soon no longer perceptible.

Sometimes a visible bruise (haematoma) is also formed at the site of the torn muscle fibre.

The symptoms described above are all the more pronounced the more serious the muscle injury is – i.e. when more than one fibre, a bundle of fibres or even the whole muscle is torn.

Torn muscle fibre: Causes and risk factors

In the case of a torn muscle fibre, the smallest structural units of the muscle are destroyed: the muscle fibres. These are long, cylindrical cells with many nuclei. They can be up to 30 centimetres long and between ten and 100 micrometres thick, depending on the muscle and the strain. Ten to 20 muscle fibers each form a muscle fiber bundle that is surrounded by connective tissue. A skeletal muscle consists of several such muscle fibre bundles.

Muscle fibres are the basic units of a muscle. Several muscle fibres each form a muscle bundle, numerous muscle bundles form the entire muscle.

Muscle fibres can tear if the muscle is suddenly overstrained. Overloading means: a force is applied to the muscle that is greater than the force of the muscle itself. The muscle cannot therefore withstand this excessive force – tissue tears. This can happen, for example, during several long sprints, sudden stops, rapid changes of direction, when the muscles are tired or untrained or when they are under extreme strain. Depending on the extent of the resulting muscle damage one speaks of:

  • Torn muscle fibre: Tearing of one or (usually) several fibres of a muscle. This often leads to bleeding (bruising) into the tissue. A torn muscle fibre particularly often affects the thigh (Musculus quadriceps femoris) and calf muscle (M. gastrocnemicus).
  • Torn muscle bundle: In this form of muscle damage, entire bundles of fibers are injured.
  • Muscle rupture: The most severe consequence of muscle overloading. In the case of muscle rupture, the entire muscle is completely severed. It is then no longer functional.

If the force applied only slightly overloads the muscle, it is merely stretched but does not tear. A (also painful) muscle strain develops.

Injuries such as a torn muscle fibre occur mainly during sport – in fact, a torn muscle fibre is one of the most common sports injuries. Sports that require sudden, rapid acceleration and stops are particularly risky. These include football, handball, tennis, squash and short-distance sprints. Direct trauma (such as a kick against the calf) can also cause a rupture of muscle fibre. However, it usually occurs without any external violence.

Risk factors for torn muscle fibre

Various factors favour a torn muscle fibre, torn muscle bundle, torn muscle or a simple strain. These include, for example:

  • tired or insufficiently warmed up or stretched muscles
  • dysfunctional motor coordination
  • muscular imbalance in extremities or spine
  • lack of training status/lack of fitness
  • unhealed former injuries
  • unfamiliar ground conditions
  • chilly weather
  • wrong shoes
  • Lack of liquid, vitamins, minerals and trace elements
  • Infections (like mononucleosis)
  • Taking preparations for rapid muscle building (anabolic steroids)

Torn muscle fibre: Treatment

In the event of a torn muscle fibre or more severe muscle damage (torn muscle bundle, torn muscle), first aid measures should be initiated as quickly as possible according to the PECH scheme:

  • P for break: Stop sporting activity, immobilize the injured limb.
  • E for ice: Cool the injured area for ten to 20 minutes with an ice pack or cold compress.
  • C for Compression: Apply  compression – compression bandage.
  • H for elevation: The torn muscle fibre often affects the upper arm, thigh or calf. The injured limb should be elevated so that less blood flows into the injured tissue.

These measures are aimed at stopping the bleeding into the tissue, reducing pain and swelling and preventing further damage. The tissue should not heat up and should not be massaged. Both can lead to increased bleeding.

Torn muscle fibre: Therapy at the doctor

The doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or diclofenac in the case of a rupture of muscle fibre. A dosed physical therapy (lymph drainage, cold therapy etc.) can promote the regeneration of the injured muscle. As soon as the complaints decrease, one should start with physiotherapy. Functional exercises are recommended which place increasing strain on the affected muscle. Sometimes the therapist applies a special tape bandage to the injured area.

Exercises for the therapy of a torn muscle fibre should not cause pain!

A large bruise in the tissue may need to be punctured. The doctor inserts a hollow needle into the bruise so that the blood either flows off by itself or can be sucked out (drainage).

An operation may be necessary in the case of a pronounced rupture of the muscle fibre or a rupture of a muscle bundle or a complete muscle rupture. The torn muscle parts are sewn. The surgeon uses suture material for this, which dissolves itself over time and is absorbed by the body.

Torn muscle fibre: Examinations and diagnosis

If a muscle fibre rupture is suspected, one should go to the family doctor or immediately to a sports physician. He will first inquire about the symptoms and the injury mechanism (taking the medical history = anamnesis). Possible questions here are:

  • Where did the injury happen?
  • How long has it been?
  • Where exactly do the complaints occur?

Then follows the physical examination. The doctor will examine the injured area for any muscle dent or swelling. It checks whether the stretching and loading of the muscle causes pain and whether the muscle has lost strength.

Ultrasound (sonography) and, if necessary, magnetic resonance imaging (MRT, magnetic resonance imaging) can be used to support the diagnosis of torn muscle fibres. In addition, the doctor can use the imaging techniques to detect possible bleeding into the tissue. If it is suspected that an additional bone has been injured, this can be checked by means of an X-ray examination.

Torn muscle fibre: Course and forecast

In the case of a torn muscle fibre, there are generally no complications. The injury usually heals without consequences. However, the healing process in the case of a torn muscle fibre takes time: depending on the severity of the injury, you should not do any sport for two to six weeks. In case of a muscle rupture, a break of four to eight weeks is recommended. If the muscle is strained before the torn muscle fibre (torn muscle bundle, torn muscle) has healed, a new injury (re-traumatisation) can easily occur.

Torn muscle fibre: Prevention

You can reduce the risk of muscle injury due to overloading by warming up before exercise and doing regular exercises for a balanced static/muscle balance. If necessary, muscles at risk could be supported with a bandage or tape bandage – this can possibly prevent a muscle fibre tear.

About this text

This text complies with the requirements of medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been reviewed by medical experts.


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