Health Guide

Muscle strain

What is it?

  • A muscle strain is also called a pulled muscle. It occurs when a muscle is suddenly pulled or twisted. When this happens, a tiny tear occurs in the muscle. Pulled muscles happen more easily when muscles are not stretched or warmed up before working out. Sometimes they happen when the muscle is overused. Strains happen most often in the legs, arms, and back.
  • Your muscle may hurt and may be swollen. You may not be able to move the area of your body where the hurt muscle is because of the pain and swelling. You may need an x-ray (picture) taken of the injured area to make sure you did not also break a bone. Healing usually takes about 1 to 2 weeks but may take up to 6 weeks for bad strains. While it is healing, you may need to wear a splint or ace wrap to protect the injury.

Medical Care:

The most important part of treating an injured muscle is resting the muscle. Resting your muscle lessens swelling and allows the injury to heal. When the pain decreases, begin normal, slow movements.

  • Ice causes blood vessels to constrict (get small) which helps lessen inflammation (swelling, pain, and redness). Put crushed ice in a plastic bag and cover it with a towel. Put this on your injured muscle for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as long as you need it. Do not sleep on the ice pack because you can get frostbite.
  • Keep the injured muscle raised above your heart, if possible. This helps lessen both pain and swelling.
  • You may need to wear a splint or brace to keep the injured muscle from moving so the muscle will heal. How bad the sprain is will determine if you need a splint.
  • You may remove the splint each day to wash the injured area.
  • Put your splint back on as soon as possible. When retaping, make sure the splint is in the same place and position. You may also retape the splint if it gets wet. If the area above or below the splint starts to feel numb or tingling, the splint may be too tight. Loosen the tape so the area is comfortable.
  • Move the part of your body near the injury, such as fingers or toes, which is not covered by the splint several times a day.

Following are things you can do to help your muscle strain heal faster. This may also prevent muscle strains in the future.

  • Do not return to running or other heavy exercise until you are pain-free and your caregiver says it is OK.
  • Start exercising slowly, like bicycling, when caregivers say it is OK.
  • Always do stretching exercises before working out or doing sports activities. This will loosen muscles and tendons that will lessen stress on your muscles. Your caregiver can show you exercises best for stretching.
  • Ask your caregiver if you should wrap weak joints with support bandages before exercising. You caregiver will show you the correct way to use support bandages.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.



      Complementary Therapies:

      • Chiropractic treatment is often used for muscle strains.
      • Magnet therapy is used for muscle aches and strains.
      • Massage decreases symptoms and helps you to recover more quickly from muscle strain.

      Other ways of treating your symptoms : Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

      Talk to your caregiver if:

      • You would like medicine to treat muscle strain.
      • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
      • You have questions about what you have read in this document.


      • Your bruising, swelling, or pain gets worse.
      • The area is cold below the injury, such as fingers or toes.
      • The area is numb or blue below the injury, such as fingers or toes.

      Care Agreement:

      You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


      1. Ernst E: Does post-exercise massage treatment reduce delayed onset muscle soreness? Br J Sports Med 1998; 32(3):212-214.

      2. Kaminski M & Boal R: An effect of ascorbic acid on delayed-onset muscle soreness. Pain 1992; 50(3):317-321.

      3. Zhang WY & Li Wan Po A: The effectiveness of topically applied capsaicin. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 1994; 46(6):517-522.

      Last Updated: 4/4/2018
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