A muscle strain can happen when a muscle gets stretched too much or too quickly, or works too hard. This sometimes makes the muscle tear. Another term for a muscle strain is a "pulled muscle."
A muscle strain can happen during an accident or exercise. Muscles that are commonly strained include those in the back, neck, and back of the leg.
What are the symptoms of a muscle strain?
Symptoms that happen in the area of the muscle strain can include:
- Muscle spasm or tightness
- Weakness or being unable to move the muscle
Will I need tests?
Some people need tests. Your provider or nurse should be able to tell if you have a muscle strain by learning about your symptoms and doing an exam.
Depending on your symptoms, your provider or nurse might order X-ray exams for them to better see inside of the body.
How is a muscle strain treated?
A muscle strain usually gets better on its own, but it can take days to weeks to heal completely.
To help your symptoms get better, you can:
- Rest your muscle and avoid movements or activities that cause pain
- Ice the area – You can put a cold gel pack, bag of ice, or bag of frozen vegetables on the painful muscle every 1 to 2 hours, for 15 minutes each time. Put a thin towel between the ice (or other cold object) and your skin. Use the ice (or other cold object) for at least 6 hours after the injury. Some people find it helpful to ice up to 2 days after an injury.
- Wrap your muscle with an elastic bandage, other type of wrap, or fabric "sleeve" (picture 1) – This helps support your muscle.
- Raise the muscle above the level of your heart (if possible) – For example, you can prop your leg up on pillows. This is helpful only for the first few days after an injury.
- Take medicine to reduce the pain and swelling – If you have a lot of pain or a severe muscle strain, your provider will prescribe a strong pain medicine.
If your strain is not severe, you can take an over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol), ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (sample brand name: Aleve).
What happens next?
After your pain gets better, your provider or nurse will recommend that you gently stretch and exercise your muscle. Stretches and exercises can help strengthen your muscles and keep them from getting too stiff.
Your provider or nurse will show you stretches and exercises to do. Or he or she will have you work with a physical therapist (exercise expert).
It's important to let your muscle heal before you play sports or do other activities that use the muscle again. If you don't let your muscle heal, you are likely to injure it again.
CareNow® can help
If you have a strained muscle that does not seem to be improving, visit CareNow® urgent care for medical treatment. Our clinics are open seven days a week for walk-in patients. Contact us to find a clinic near you.
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