Muscle strains: This section applies to all muscles regardless of their location in the body. Some muscles are easier to apply the protocol to though so as a general rule ice the injury a few times a day for 10 minutes at a time and try and keep it moving fairly often but in a pain free range.
A strain is the medical term for a tear and comes in 3 grades from the least serious grade 1 to a complete tear grade 3. Complete tears/grade 3 strains need surgical assessment as soon as possible if they are to be reattached. Grades 1 & 2 are only partial tears and do not require surgery. The best initial care is to use the acronym PRICE:
P – Protect, Basic health & safety if there is any threat of further injury in local environment, avoid it!
R – Rest, stop and rest the injured muscle as soon as you feel it tear to prevent further damage.
I – Ice, apply ice over the injured area for 10 minutes at a time at regular intervals for at least 48 hours.
C- Compress, wrap a bandage or similar compress around the injured area if possible.
E – Elevate, If you have injured and arm or leg keep it elevated to prevent blood pooling from gravity.
Please note that this is also the standard protocol for ligament sprains which are essentially the same type of tears as muscle strains but the word sprain relates to ligaments. Medical care should be sought if you are unable to weight bear, you cannot move the joint or muscle, there is a significant change in shape around the joint/muscle or you have numbness, coldness or discolouration around the injured area.
For the super up to date amongst you it is true that the effectiveness of this regimen has been questioned by some sports medicine experts in recent years. For a reasonable discussion of this see this youtube video
The pain and swelling that occur after injury is part of the inflammatory process that is also responsible for healing the tissue. If it is responsible for healing then the question becomes how much do you really want to reduce it just to feel less pain in the first few hours when it might harm your recovery in the long run. The same logic applies to taking anti-inflammatory medication, why bother when you might actually be interfering with the healing response?
Most people will get an adequate recovery using the PRICE acronym and pain reduction is the most important factor for most people. However, personally I think that if you are serious about having the best recovery possible you should read up on different recovery methods and consider relying more on gentle mobilisation of the injured muscle in a pain free range. I would also still use ice for just 10 minutes at a time as over 20 minutes has been shown to reduce recovery. I would definitely avoid taking anti-inflammatories for the same reason as excessive icing.