Muscle strains

Muscles are responsible for the movement of the human body. They are made up of bundles of muscle fibres and connect bones together to produce movement.

Muscle strain is a common type of injury which occurs when the muscle fibres stretch or tear.  It is often referred to as a ‘pulled muscle’ and happens when the muscle is stretched beyond its limits or is forced to shorten or contract too quickly.

A muscle strain can be mild (Grade 1), moderate (Grade 2) or severe (Grade3).

The main causes of a muscle strain are sporting activities and accidents, for example, lifting something incorrectly or which is too heavy.  You are more likely to develop a muscle strain in certain circumstances. These include:

  • inadequate warm-up
  • fatigue
  • poor technique
  • previous injury to muscles
  • weak muscles

The symptoms of a muscle strain will vary depending on the severity of the injury and the extent of the damage to the muscle.

Symptoms of a muscle strain can include:

  • pain and tenderness in the affected muscle
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • loss of function/strength

The aims of treatment will depend on the symptoms.  The main aims are to reduce pain and swelling and to maintain movement and strength of the muscle/s affected.  It is important to try and help your injury to heal and to protect the muscle from further damage.  Many minor strains will respond to the following PRICE principles of treatment:

  • protection: protect the injured area from further harm.
  • rest: stop the activity which caused the injury and rest the muscle.  Avoid activity for 48-72 hours after injuring yourself.  If the injury affects your leg you may need to use crutches.
  • ice: for the first 48-72 hours after the injury you can apply ice wrapped in a damp towel to the injured area for 15-20 minutes every two to three hours during the day.  Do not leave the ice on when you are asleep and do not let the ice come into direct contact with your skin.
  • compression: compress or bandage the injured area to limit any swelling and movement that could cause further damage.  Ensure the bandage is snug but not so tight that it restricts the blood flow. Remove the bandage before going to sleep.
  • elevation: try to keep the injured area raised and supported to help reduce swelling.  If possible elevate above the level of your heart.  Avoid having long periods of time where the injured area is not elevated.

For the first 72 hours after a muscle strain you should avoid HARM.  This means you should avoid:

  • heat: such as hot baths, saunas or heat packs
  • alcohol: drinking alcohol can increase bleeding and swelling and slow healing
  • running: or any other form of exercise that could cause more damage
  • massage: which may increase bleeding and swelling

If your injury doesn’t improve it is important to seek advice from your GP or from a physiotherapist.

If you have a Grade 3 muscle strain and your muscle is completely torn, you may need an operation to repair it.

It is important to make sure your injury is fully healed before you start exercising again.  If you return to exercise too soon, you’re more likely to have another muscle strain injury.

At the Centre for Clinical Physiotherapy we offer a wide range of services, knowledge and expertise to effectively treat and manage muscle strains. Treatments are delivered by highly skilled and experienced physiotherapists who are passionate about delivering a quality service and the best possible results for you.

Book an appointment

St Joseph’s Hospital may contact you with information about the services we provide. You can either amend or withdraw your consent at any time.
For information about where and how your personal data is processed and how it is processed please see our privacy policy.