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What is a Muscle Strain?

A muscle strain refers to the tearing or stretching of muscle fibers or the attaching tendons. This condition can also be called a “muscle pull” or “muscle tear.” Sometimes a muscle strain damages small blood vessels, which can lead to some combination of local bleeding, bruising, and nerve pain.


Muscle strains can happen all over the body, but are most common in the lower back, shoulder, neck, quadriceps, calf and hamstring.


There are three types of muscle strains:

Man with Muscle Strain

• Grade I: A mild strain, affecting on a few muscle fibers; pain is common but little or no muscle strength is lost.

• Grade II: A moderate strain, affecting more fibers and causing more pain, with mild swelling, a noticeable loss of strength; bruising is also common.

• Grade III: A complete tear of the muscle, often accompanied by an audible “pop” at the time of injury; causes severe pain, swelling and discoloration, and complete loss of muscle function; sometimes there is a visible depression in the skin above the muscle.

What causes Muscle Strain?

Muscle strains can happen to anyone, and can occur in a range of activities from everyday tasks to sudden and intense activity. A muscle strain occurs when either the muscle has been forced to contract under too much duress, or the muscle has been stretched beyond its limits.


Muscles and joints are stiffer in lower temperatures, so muscle strains are more common in colder weather.


Chronic muscle strains, caused by repetitive movement, can be caused by:


• Athletic activity, like weight lifting, running, throwing, rowing, tennis and golf.

• Poor posture for prolonged periods, common when sitting at a desk for too long.


Acute muscle strains (a sudden, unexpected tear caused by a twist or pull) can be caused by:


• Lifting heavy objects the wrong way

• Slipping or losing your footing

• Jumping or sprinting or cutting

• Failure to warm up properly before physical activity

• Overuse and/or fatigue

• Poor flexibility or conditioning

What are some symptoms of Muscle Strain?

Symptoms of a muscle strain can include:


• Sudden pain at the time of injury

• An audible “pop” at the time of injury

• Consistent pain, soreness or stiffness in the area of the injury, while using the affected muscle and while at rest

• Swelling, bruising, redness

• A dent or depression in the skin above the muscle

• Weakness in the muscle, or inability to use it at all

• Limited range of motion

• Tightness, like the muscle has a knot in it

• Muscle spasms or cramps

What are some risk factors for Muscle Strain?

The most common risk factors for muscle strain include:


• Sports or activity that require sudden muscle contractions and quick bursts

• Poor conditioning

• Failure to warm up properly before physical activity

• Fatigue

• Prior injury

• Hazardous or unpredictable environmental conditions, like slippery floors or wet playing fields

Muscle Strain in Back

What treatments are available for Muscle Strain?

For almost all strains, doctors will recommend the RICE rule:


• Rest

• Ice to reduce swelling

• Compression

• Elevation of the injured area


The following medications can also be employed:


• Acetaminophen (Tylenol, etc.)

• Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (Advil, Motrin, etc.)

• Prescription pain medication and/or muscle relaxers


More severe strains may require a combination of the following:


• Immobilization

• Crutches and/or a brace

• Physical therapy

• Surgey

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