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What is a Muscle Strain?


A muscle strain, which can also be referred to as a pulled muscle, is the result of an overstretched or torn muscle. What causes a muscle strain can be something as simple as improper use of the muscle when you lift or bend, or something more traumatic like a fall or accident. Muscle strain symptoms can range in severity, sometimes causing enough pain to interfere with simple day-to-day activities.

Muscle strain is one of the most common causes of low back pain. Other types of muscle strain are strains of the neck, shoulders, and hamstrings. Fortunately, most muscle strains can be treated at home using pain medication and by applying ice. Treatment for muscle pain caused by a severe strain or tear may require medical care by a professional.

Back Pain Centers of America can help you find relief from your pain when other treatments have failed. Call us today at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] to be matched with a board-certified specialist trained in cutting edge, minimally invasive back pain treatment.

Experiencing pain from a muscle strain

What Causes Muscle Strain?

Muscle strains can be acute or chronic. Acute muscle strains are sudden muscle tears that result from an injury or trauma from things like:

  • Falling
  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Tripping
  • Heavy or improper lifting
  • Throwing, pushing or pulling

Unlike acute muscle strains that happen suddenly, chronic muscle strains come from movements you use often. Repetitive movements from the following may cause muscle strain:

  • Poor posture
  • Sports, such as golf, tennis, or rowing
  • Being in the same position for extended periods, such as hunched over a desk
  • Occupations with repetitive lifting, bending, or twisting

Risk of muscle strain is increased if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Have poor flexibility
  • Are in poor physical shape
  • Live an inactive lifestyle
  • Have a job that involves repetitive movements or heavy lifting

Muscle Strain Symptoms

Muscle strain symptoms depend on the muscle that has been strained or torn and how severely. You can strain any muscle in your body. Common symptoms of muscle strain include:

  • Pain that worsens with movement
  • Stiffness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Muscle spasms
  • Swelling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bruising or discoloration

muscle pain in neck and back

Muscle Strain Treatment Options

In most cases, muscle strains can be treated using conservative treatment at home. Severe damage to the muscle may require further treatment. A doctor can assess the severity of your muscle injury based on how much of the muscle’s range of motion and strength is lost. Muscle strains are categorized using the following grading system:

  • Grade 1 – Mild damage to less than 5 percent of muscle fibers with minimal loss of motion and strength.
  • Grade 2 – More damaged muscle fibers with significant loss of motion and strength, but the muscle is not completely ruptured.
  • Grade 3 –Complete rupture of the muscle or tendon with a notable defect in the muscle or tendon that can be felt when touched. This is the most severe grade.

Most mild muscle strains get better within 2 or 3 weeks with rest and some conservative treatment. Grade 2 muscle strains can take 2 to 3 months to improve with a combination of nonsurgical treatment options.

Conservative muscle strain treatment may include a combination of the following:

  • Rest – Avoiding use of the strained muscle for a few days can help relieve pain. It’s not advisable to rest for too long though, as this can cause the muscle to become weak and slow your healing. Gentle movement after a couple of days of rest is recommended. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of movement until you’re feeling back to normal.
  • Cold and heat – Applying ice or a cold pack to the injured muscle can decrease swelling and help relieve pain. Start applying heat a 2 or 3 days later to help relieve stiffness and loosen up tense muscles.
  • Pain medication – Over-the-counter pain medication can help manage mild to moderate muscle strain pain.
  • Topical analgesics – Creams and ointments containing anti-inflammatory medications and analgesics are available both over the counter and by prescription. These are applied to the skin over the affected muscle to relieve pain and inflammation from muscle strains.
  • Muscle relaxants – This type of medication can be used if you’re experiencing muscle spasms.
  • Physical therapy – A physical therapist can offer several treatment options for a muscle strain, such as gentle exercises, proper posture techniques, traction, and others that may help relieve symptoms.

Grade 3 muscle strains require surgical treatment to repair the ruptured muscles and tendons. Imaging is used to rule out other injury, especially in muscle strains and tears involving the back. This is especially important if your pain is accompanied by tingling, numbness, and weakness.

Don’t delay relief. If you’re experiencing pain that isn’t responding to nonsurgical treatment, one of our board-certified orthopedists can help. Back Pain Centers of America offers minimally invasive treatments that have helped over 30,000 patients find relief from debilitating pain. Call us at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] today so we can help you find the relief you need.

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