Muscle Strain

(Pulled Muscle; Strain, Muscle)

Definition

A muscle strain is an injury to a muscle. It may be a stretch of the muscle or a partial or full tear.

Muscles of the Back

Nucleus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

A muscle strain is caused by stress that the muscle cannot withstand. This can happen when:

  • The muscle may not be ready for sudden stress
  • Tension may be too much for the muscle to bear, such as lifting a weight that is too heavy
  • The muscle is used too much in one day

Some muscles are more likely to be strained, such as:

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Athletic activities, especially those with running, lifting, and jumping
  • Tight muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Overexertion
  • Cold weather

Symptoms

Symptoms depend on how the muscle was strained.

Strain while doing physical activity:

  • Immediate soreness or pain in the affected muscle
  • Increased pain when using the muscle
  • Tenderness and swelling
  • Bruised skin
  • Pain when moving nearby joints

Strain from a buildup of stress:

  • Very sore muscle the day after doing a new activity
  • Pain or discomfort when using the muscle

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked how the injury happened. The injured area will be examined. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

Tests are not often needed. The doctor may use them if there is severe pain or bleeding. Options are:

Treatment

Treatment depends on the severity of the strain and the muscle involved. Options are:

  • Resting the muscle by limiting activities
  • Supportive care, such as ice and compression bandages
  • Medicines to ease pain and swelling, such as ibuprofen or prescription pain relievers
  • Therapy to help with strength and range of motion

Prevention

Most muscle strains happen due to accidents. Healthy muscles may help prevent injury. This may be done through exercise.

RESOURCES:

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.sportsmed.org
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

References:

Derry S, Moore RA, Gaskell H, McIntyre M, Wiffen PJ. Topical NSAIDS for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2015;(6):CD007402.
Hamstring strain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hamstring-strain. Accessed October 7, 2020.
Muscle strain (pulled muscle). Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/orthopaedic-surgery/specialty-areas/sports-medicine/conditions-we-treat/muscle-strains.html. Accessed October 7, 2020.
Sprains, strains, and other soft-tissue injuries. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedics website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sprains-strains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries. Accessed October 7, 2020.
Valle X, L Tol J, et al. Hamstring Muscle Injuries, a Rehabilitation Protocol Purpose. Asian J Sports Med. 2015 Dec;6(4):e25411.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS
Last Updated: 5/12/2021

EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at healthlibrarysupport@ebsco.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.