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What is a Pulled Muscle?

A pulled muscle, also known as a muscle strain, occurs when fibers within a muscle or tendon stretch too far and tear. This injury can cause pain, swelling, and limited movement. Imagine overstretching an elastic band—similar stress on a muscle can lead to a strain. Intrigued by how this happens and what you can do about it? Keep reading to uncover the full picture.
Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

A pulled muscle occurs when a muscle anywhere in the body is stretched beyond its means, leading to slight tearing of the tiny fibers that make up the muscle. A pulled muscle is sometimes known as a strained muscle, and the condition can be quite painful, though some instances of a pulled muscle will result in very little pain. A sufferer of a muscle pull may not have to stop the physical activity in which he or she is participating if the strain is slight; more severe strains will require the person to stop the physical activity and rest for a significant period of time.

The RICE treatment is most often used to treat a pulled muscle. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. These actions are used to allow the muscle tissue to heal on its own and to prevent swelling, which can lead to more pain and slower healing time. More severe instances of a pulled muscle may need more attention beyond the RICE treatment, but for minor strains, sufficient rest is usually enough to allow the injury to heal. Once little or no pain is felt, it may be necessary to participate in physical therapy or light exercise to re-strengthen the muscle.

The human muscular system.
The human muscular system.

Pulled muscles can occur for several reasons. When a person stretches a muscle beyond its normal capabilities, as is likely to occur during athletic events, the muscle can begin to tear slightly, leading to pain. If the muscle endures a load it is not prepared to handle, the muscle fibers can tear under the stress. A direct impact to a particular muscle can also cause a pulled muscle, though this is less likely than other causes. The severity of the strained muscle will vary significantly according to the cause of injury, the overall health of the person, and the strength of that particular muscle.

It's common for an athlete or runner to pull a muscle in their leg and need time to recover.
It's common for an athlete or runner to pull a muscle in their leg and need time to recover.

If a muscle strains to a point at which the muscle fibers tear completely from each other or from the tendons that connect the muscle to bone, the pulled muscle is then known as a rupture. This is a serious condition that can lead to significant pain, swelling, and bruising. A ruptured muscle is likely to bunch up at one end of its length. The muscle will more than likely need to be repaired surgically if it ruptures, which means medical attention will be necessary as soon as possible after the injury occurs.

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    • The human muscular system.
      By: adimas
      The human muscular system.
    • It's common for an athlete or runner to pull a muscle in their leg and need time to recover.
      By: Maridav
      It's common for an athlete or runner to pull a muscle in their leg and need time to recover.
    • If a muscle strains to a point at which the muscle fibers tear completely from each other or from the tendons that connect the muscle to bone, the pulled muscle is then known as a rupture.
      By: Balint Radu
      If a muscle strains to a point at which the muscle fibers tear completely from each other or from the tendons that connect the muscle to bone, the pulled muscle is then known as a rupture.
    • Ice therapy may be helpful in treating a pulled muscle.
      By: Luis Santos
      Ice therapy may be helpful in treating a pulled muscle.
    • Water therapy may be used to treat a pulled muscles.
      By: Tyler Olson
      Water therapy may be used to treat a pulled muscles.