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Muscle Strain (pulled muscle)

Muscle Strain

What is a muscle strain? — 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 thigh.
What are the symptoms of a muscle strain? — Symptoms happen in the area of the muscle strain and can include:
Muscle spasm or tightness
Weakness or being unable to move the muscle
Will I need tests? — Probably not. Your doctor or nurse should be able to tell if you have a muscle strain by learning about your symptoms and doing an exam.
Some people need tests. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor or nurse might order an imaging test such as an ultrasound or MRI scan. Imaging tests create pictures of the 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 doctor 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).
After your pain gets better, your doctor 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 doctor 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.
Can a muscle strain be prevented? — You can help prevent a muscle strain by taking time to warm up your muscles before you exercise. You can do this by walking or doing another light activity. If you are not sure how to warm up before exercising, ask your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 83535 Version 7.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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