Muscle Strain Overview
Muscle strain, muscle pull, or even a muscle tear refers to damage to a muscle or its attaching tendons. You can put undue pressure on muscles during the course of normal daily activities, with sudden heavy lifting, during sports, or while performing work tasks.
Muscle damage can be in the form of tearing (part or all) of the muscle fibers and the tendons attached to the muscle. The tearing of the muscle can also damage small blood vessels, causing local bleeding, or bruising, and pain caused by irritation of the nerve endings in the area.
Muscle Strain Symptoms
Symptoms of muscle strain include:
- Swelling, bruising, or redness due to the injury
- Pain at rest
- Pain when the specific muscle or the joint in relation to that muscle is used
- Weakness of the muscle or tendons
- Inability to use the muscle at all
When to Seek Medical Care
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.
Exams and Tests
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.
Muscle Strain Treatment Self-Care at Home
The amount of swelling or local bleeding into the muscle (from torn blood vessels) can best be managed early by applying ice packs and maintaining the strained muscle in a stretched position. Heat can be applied when the swelling has lessened. However, the early application of heat can increase swelling and pain.
Note: Ice or heat should not be applied to bare skin. Always use a protective covering such as a towel between the ice or heat and the skin.
Medical treatment is similar to the treatment at home. The doctor, however, also can determine the extent of muscle and tendon injury and if crutches or a brace is needed for healing. The doctor can also determine if you need to restrict your activity or take days off work and if rehabilitation exercises or physical therapy are required to help you recover.
In most cases, with proper treatment, most people recover completely from muscle strain. More complicated cases should be handled by a doctor.