A strain is when a muscle is stretched too much and tears. It is also called a pulled muscle. A strain is a painful injury. It can be caused by an accident, overusing a muscle, or using a muscle in the wrong way.
A strain may be caused by:
- Too much physical activity or effort
- Improperly warming up before a physical activity
- Poor flexibility
Symptoms of a strain can include:
- Pain and difficulty moving the injured muscle
- Discolored and bruised skin
- Apply ice right away to reduce swelling. Wrap the ice in cloth. Do not place ice directly on the skin. Apply ice for 10 to 15 minutes every 1 hour for the first day and every 3 to 4 hours after that.
- Use ice for the first 3 days. Either heat or ice may be helpful after that if you still have pain.
- Rest the pulled muscle for at least a day. If possible, keep the pulled muscle raised about your heart.
- Try not to use a strained muscle while it is still painful. When the pain starts to go away, you can slowly increase activity.
When to get medical assistance
Call your local emergency number, such as 911, if:
- You are unable to move the muscle.
- The injury is bleeding.
Call your health care provider if the pain does not go away after several weeks.
The following tips may help you reduce your risk of a strain:
Biundo JJ. Bursitis, tendinitis, and other periarticular disorders and sports medicine. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 271.
Brinker MR, O’Connor DP, Almekinders LC, et al. Physiology of Injury to Musculoskeletal Structures: 1. Muscle and Tendon Injury. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 1, section A.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.