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A strain is when a muscle becomes overstretched and tears. This painful injury, also called a "pulled muscle," can be caused by an accident, improper use of a muscle, or overuse of a muscle.
A strain may be caused by:
- Excessive physical activity or effort
- Improperly warming up before a physical activity
- Poor flexibility
Symptoms of a strain can include:
- Pain and difficulty moving the injured muscle
- Discolored and bruised skin
- Apply ice immediately to reduce swelling. Wrap the ice in cloth. Do not place it directly on the skin. Apply ice for 10 to 15 minutes every 1 hour for the first day. Then, every 3 to 4 hours.
- Use ice for the first 3 days. After that, either heat or ice may be helpful.
- Rest the pulled muscle for at least a day. If possible, keep the pulled muscle raised about your heart.
- Avoid using a strained muscle while it is still painful. When the pain starts to go away, you can slowly increase activity.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your local emergency number, such as 911, if:
- You are unable to move the muscle.
- The injury is bleeding.
Call your doctor if the pain does not go away after several weeks.
The following tips may help you reduce your risk of a strain:
- Warm-up properly before exercise and sports.
- Keep your muscles strong and flexible.
Brinker MR, O’Connor DP, Almekinders LC, et al. Physiology of Injury to Musculoskeletal Structures: 1. Muscle and Tendon Injury. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 1, section A.
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.