Definition

What is a muscle strain?

A muscle strain, or pulled muscle, occurs when your muscle is overstretched or torn. Strains can happen in any muscle, but they’re most common in your lower back, neck, shoulder, and hamstring, which is the muscle behind your thigh.

How common is a muscle strain?

A muscle strain is common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of a muscle strain?

The common symptoms of a muscle strain are

You’ll usually feel a muscle strain as it occurs. Symptoms include:

  • Sudden onset of pain
  • Soreness
  • Limited range of movement
  • Bruising or discoloration
  • Swelling
  • A “Knotted-up” Feeling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness

In a mild strain, a torn muscle may feel slightly stiff but still flexible enough for use. A severe muscle strain is when the muscle is severely torn. This results in pain and very limited movement.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have a significant muscle injury (or if home remedies bring no relief in 24 hours), call your doctor.

If you hear a “popping” sound with the injury, cannot walk, or there is significant swelling, pain, fever, or open cuts, you should be examined in a hospital’s emergency department.

For best, if you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes a muscle strain?

An acute muscle strain is when your muscle tears suddenly and unexpectedly. Such tears can occur either from injuries or trauma. This can be due to:

  • Not warming up properly before physical activity
  • Poor flexibility
  • Poor conditioning
  • Overexertion and fatigue

An acute strain can happen when you:

  • Slip or lose your footing
  • Jump
  • Run
  • Throw something
  • Lift something heavy
  • Lift something while in you’re in an awkward position

Acute muscle strains are also more common in cold weather. This is because muscles are stiffer in lower temperatures. It’s important to take extra time to warm up in these conditions to prevent strains.

Chronic muscle strains are the result of repetitive movement. This can be due to:

  • Sports like rowing, tennis, golf, or baseball
  • Holding your back or neck in an awkward position for long periods of time, such as when you work at a desk
  • Poor posture

Risk factors

There are many risk factors for a muscle strain, such as:

  • Poor athletic conditioning. Anyone who attempts strenuous athletic activities without prior conditioning, such as a regular routine of ankle and calf stretching and strengthening exercises, runs an increased risk of spraining or straining the ankle ligaments and muscles during activity.
  • Muscle and ligament fatigue. When muscles and ligaments become fatigued at or near the end of a vigorous activity, people run a higher risk of injury if they “push through” the fatigue in pursuit of more activity instead of resting. For example, someone running a marathon may run a higher risk of ankle sprains or strains during the last few miles of the race.
  • Not warming up before activity. Athletes who go right into vigorous activity without doing a gradual warmup session beforehand, such as gentle stretching and walking before starting a sprint, run a higher risk of ankle sprains and strains. Without a warmup period, muscles and ligaments will remain tight, and less flexibility means greater risk for stretches and tears.
  • Carrying excess weight. Excess weight places greater impact load onto the joints when walking, running, and jumping, which can increase the likelihood that ligaments and/or muscles will be stretched or torn during activity.6 Some studies indicate that the risk of developing ankle sprains and strains is slightly higher for overweight males than for overweight females.
  • Female gender in athletes over 30. Several studies have indicated that females over age 30 are at a significantly higher risk of developing ankle sprains than males in that age group, independent of their body mass index.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is a muscle strain diagnosed?

The doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical exam. During the exam, it’s important to establish whether the muscle is partially or completely torn, which can involve a much longer healing process, possible surgery, and a more complicated recovery.

X-rays or lab tests are often not necessary, unless there was a history of trauma or evidence of infection.

How is a muscle strain treated?

Treatment may include anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers to reduce pain and swelling, along with physical therapy to help strengthen the muscle and restore movement.

In very severe cases, surgery may be required to repair the muscle.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage a muscle strain?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with a muscle strain:

Most muscle strains can be successfully treated at home. Minor muscle strains can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE).

Rest

Avoid using your muscle for a few days, especially if movement causes an increase in pain. Too much rest can cause muscles to become weak, which can prolong the healing process. After two days, slowly begin using the affected muscle group, taking care not to overdo it.

Ice

Apply ice immediately after injuring your muscle. This will minimize swelling. Don’t put ice directly on your skin. Use an ice pack or wrap ice in a towel. Keep the ice on your muscle for about 20 minutes. Repeat every hour on the first day. For the next several days, apply ice every four hours.

Compression

To reduce swelling, wrap the affected area with an elastic bandage until swelling comes down. Be careful not to wrap the area too tightly, as this can reduce your blood circulation.

Elevation

Whenever possible, keep the injured muscle raised above the level of your heart.

Other self-care methods include the following:

Use an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil). This will help keep pain and swelling down. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help with pain.

After three days, apply heat to the muscle several times a day. This will help bring blood circulation to the area for healing.

Don’t rest your muscle for too long. This can cause stiffness and weakness. Begin light stretching as soon as possible. Slowly increase your level of activity.

When you return to normal activity, make sure to stretch and warm up before exercising. This will help increase blood flow to your muscles and decrease you risk of injury.

You should make an effort to stay in shape. You’re less likely to suffer a strain if your muscles are strong and healthy.

If your muscle strain is severe, you may need medical attention. Physical therapy may also be recommended.

Next steps prevention

  • Help avoid injury by stretching daily.
  • Start an exercise program in consultation with your doctor.
  • Stretch after you exercise.
  • Establish a warm-up routine prior to strenuous exercise, such as gently running in place for a couple of minutes.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: October 19, 2017 | Last Modified: October 19, 2017

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