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Muscle Strain - What Is Muscle Strain?

Muscle strain occurs when fibers of your muscles are overstretched or torn causing you pain, tenderness, swelling. Muscle strains can happen when you overuse your muscles, perform improper lifting techniques or sustained injury from an accident. Muscle strain is also called "pulled muscle."

Muscle Strain Symptoms

The most common muscle strain symptom is pain or discomfort, which can range from mild to severe depending on the severity of your injury. In some cases, your pain may be accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty moving or limited motion
  • Muscle spasms
  • Swelling
  • Muscle weakness

People who partially or completely tear their muscles often experience severe pain and are unable to move their muscles.

Muscle Strain Causes

Muscle strain can be caused by twisting or pulling a muscle. The two major types of muscle strain are acute and chronic. Acute muscle strain happens during a recent trauma or injury. It is also associated with improper lifting techniques.

Chronic muscle strains are usually associated with overuse or long-term use of muscles such as bending and twisting in garden workers or construction workers.

Muscle Strain Treatment

Minor muscle strains can be effectively managed using RICE therapy for the first 24 to 48 hours following your injury. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. In others, they call it PRICE, with "P" that stands for protection.

Taking over-the-counter pain reliever may also help decrease your pain if doing RICE or PRICE is not enough to control your pain.

Physical therapy and muscle strains

Physical therapy can help you with your muscle strain. The goals of physical therapy for muscle strains are to relieve your symptoms; improve your range of motion; and to safely return you to your normal activities or sports as fast and safely possible.

Physical therapy treatments may include
  • Recommend relative rest
  • Modalities (e.g. ice or hot pack, ultrasound, TENS)
  • Exercises
    • Range of motion exercises
    • Stretching exercises
    • Strengthening exercises
  • Patient/client education on
    • Client's specific muscle strain
    • Self-care of symptoms
    • Activity or work modification
    • Injury prevention

The type of physical therapy program that you receive depends on what muscle is involved and the severity of your injury. Learn more at our Physical Therapy for Muscle Strain page.

You should consult your doctor if you have severe muscle strain where tearing of the muscle is involved. Your doctor may recommend surgery to repair the torn muscle.

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