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Muscle strains are one of the most common types of soft-tissue injuries. You can strain any muscle, but the most commonly affected areas are the neck, shoulder, lower back and the muscle on the back of the thigh, called the hamstring. Most mild strains can be treated at home, but more serious strains may require medical treatment.

What causes a strained muscle?

A strain is similar to a sprain, but a sprain is an injury to a ligament, which is a cord that connects two bones together. A muscle strain occurs when a muscle is stretched or even torn. A strain can also happen when a tendon, which connects bone to muscle, is torn or stretched too far.

There are two types of strained muscles: acute strains and chronic strains. An acute muscle strain happens when you suddenly tear or pull a muscle or tendon. If you fall or slip suddenly, you might strain a muscle.

A chronic strain develops over time, perhaps from overuse and because a muscle isn’t given enough time to heal after an injury. You might gradually develop one after playing a sport or doing a certain job over and over.

What are symptoms of a strained muscle?

Common symptoms can include:

  • Pain or soreness
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Muscle spasms
  • Weakness

In the case of a severe strain or tear, you may feel very sharp pain and limited movement in the affected area.

How is a strained muscle treated?

In mild cases, you can treat a strained muscle at home. Follow a method called RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

  • Rest: Take a break from any activity that causes pain or discomfort.
  • Ice: Put an ice pack on the injured muscle for 15-20 minutes to reduce the pain and swelling. Repeat every few hours.
  • Compression: Wrap an elastic bandage around the area to keep the swelling down.
  • Elevation: Elevate or prop the injured body part above your heart.

You might also get some relief from an over-the-counter painkiller, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. After a couple of days, you can start gently using your injured muscle again, but be careful.

If the injury is more than just a mild one, visit a healthcare provider. You may need more treatment, which could range from a brace or splint to surgery.

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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