Minor strains may only overstretch a muscle or tendon, while more severe injuries may involve partial or complete tears in these tissues.
A muscle strain is an injury to a muscle or a tendon — the fibrous tissue that connects muscles to bones. Minor injuries may only overstretch a muscle or tendon, while more severe injuries may involve partial or complete tears in these tissues.
Sometimes called pulled muscles, strains commonly occur in the lower back and in the muscles at the back of the thigh (hamstrings).
The difference between a strain and a sprain is that a strain involves an injury to a muscle or to the band of tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone, while a sprain injures the bands of tissue that connect two bones together.
Initial treatment includes rest, ice, compression and elevation. Mild strains can be successfully treated at home. Severe strains sometimes require surgical repair.
Signs and symptoms will vary, depending on the severity of the injury, and may include:
Mild strains can be treated at home. See a doctor if your symptoms worsen despite treatment — especially if your pain becomes intolerable, or you experience numbness or tingling.
Acute strains can be caused by one event, such as using poor body mechanics to lift something heavy. Chronic muscle strains can result from repetitive injuries when you stress a muscle by doing the same motion over and over.
Participating in contact sports — such as soccer, football, hockey, boxing and wrestling — can increase your risk of muscle strains.
Certain parts of the body are more susceptible to strains during participation in certain sports. Examples include:
Regular stretching and strengthening exercises for your sport, fitness or work activity, as part of an overall physical conditioning program, can help to minimize your risk of muscle strains. Try to be in shape to play your sport; don't play your sport to get in shape. If you have a physically demanding occupation, regular conditioning can help prevent injuries.
During the physical exam, your doctor will check for swelling and points of tenderness. The location and intensity of your pain can help determine the extent and nature of the damage.
In more severe injuries, where the muscle or tendon has been completely ruptured, your doctor may be able to see or feel a defect in the area of injury. Ultrasound often can help distinguish among several different types of soft tissue injuries.
For immediate self-care of a muscle strain, try the R.I.C.E. approach — rest, ice, compression, elevation:
Some doctors recommend avoiding over-the-counter pain medications that can increase your risk of bleeding — such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) — during the first 48 hours after a muscle strain. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) can be helpful for pain relief during this time period.
A physical therapist can help you to maximize stability and strength of the injured joint or limb. Your doctor may suggest that you immobilize the area with a brace or splint. For some injuries, such as a torn tendon, surgery may be considered.
While you may initially consult your family physician, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in sports medicine or orthopedic surgery.
You may want to write a list that includes:
Your doctor may ask some of the following questions: