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What Is Muscle Strain?

By Christina Edwards
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A muscle strain occurs when the muscle fibers become torn or there is some other type of muscle damage, which generally happens when a muscle is stretched too far from its natural state. Sometimes known as a pulled muscle or a muscle pull, a strain can often be quite painful. Although this can be a common sports injury, this can happen when attempting every day tasks. Treatment usually consists of rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE), but in severe cases, the muscle may need to be repaired surgically.

The most common symptom of a muscle strain is pain in the affected area. It will most likely cause pain when a person tries to move the injured muscle, and it may even be almost impossible to move. Other symptoms include redness, bruising, and swelling.

A strain usually happens when the muscle is overstretched somehow. An acute strain is typically caused by some sort of trauma to a muscle, such something hitting the muscle or a person lifting something that is to heavy. A chronic strain usually occurs when a muscle is overused, such as from repetitive movements.

Strained muscles are generally categorized in three degrees. A grade I muscle strain is usually considered to be the least serious, and there will often only be a few torn muscle fibers. Grade II muscle strains are usually a little more severe, and although more muscle fibers are torn, the muscle is not torn all the way.

Mild or moderate strains usually do not require much more than the RICE treatment, and can take anywhere from a couple of days to a several weeks to heal. Resting the injured muscle right away is considered to be very important, since it can stop any further damage. Ice wrapped in a towel and applied to the strained muscle for 10 to 20 minutes at a time can reduce swelling in the area, and so can compression, which is usually achieved by wrapping the injured area in an elastic bandage. Elevating the area close to or above heart level will also reduce swelling.

Although the RICE treatment is also recommended when the muscle tears completely, or a grade III muscle strain, sometimes surgery may be required. During this surgery, a surgeon will go in and repair the torn muscle. This can take up to a few months to heal.

Warming up and stretching the muscles prior to physical activity can help prevent a strain. These activities will help increase circulation to the body's muscles. Also, individuals who do not regularly participate in sports or exercise should not try to overwork their muscles. Trying to do too much at one time can result in a muscle strain.

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