A muscle strain is an injury that damages the internal structure of the muscle. It may be small, or severe enough to cause internal bleeding and lengthening of muscle fibers. If the damaged parts of the muscle pull away from each other, it is called a muscle rupture.
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A muscle strain is caused by tension or stress applied to the muscle that it cannot withstand. There are several ways that this can happen:
Certain areas have muscles that are more likely to be strained than others, including:
Muscles that cross two joints are at the greatest risk.
Factors that increase your chances of getting a muscle strain include:
Symptoms depend on how you strained the muscle.
You feel immediate soreness or pain in the affected muscle. If you try to use that muscle, it hurts even more. The area becomes tender and swollen. In the most severe cases, there may be a skin bruise because of bleeding underneath. Moving the nearby joints causes pain. Running and lifting are common activities that cause this type of muscle strain.
When you do an activity that your body is not used to doing, the muscles are not in shape for that kind of activity. You may not feel pain during the activity, but the next day a muscle or set of muscles may be very sore. The muscle will be tender, and using it causes pain or discomfort.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, your recent physical activity, and how the injury occurred. The injured area will be examined for:
Images may be taken of structures inside your body. This can be done with:
Treatment depends on the severity of the strain and the muscle involved.
Your muscle will need time to heal. Avoid activities that place extra stress on the affected area. In general:
Apply an ice or a cold pack to the area for 15-20 minutes, four times a day, for several days after the injury. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel.
To manage pain, your doctor may recommend:
Compression can help prevent more swelling. Your doctor may recommend an elastic compression bandage around the affected muscle. Be careful not to wrap the bandage too tight.
Elevation can also help keep swelling down. If possible, keep the affected muscle higher than your heart as much as possible for the first 24 hours or so. A couple of days of elevation might be recommended for severe strains.
Rehabilitation with a physical therapist may be required.
Use heat only when you are returning to physical activity. Heat may be used before stretching or getting ready to play sports to help loosen the muscle.
Begin stretching exercises for your muscles as recommended.
To reduce your chance of straining a muscle:
Last reviewed May 2014 by Teresa Briedwell, DPT, OCS
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.