Muscle Strain

What Is A Muscle Strain?

A muscle strain is a damaged area of muscle tissue that has suffered micro tearing. Strains typically cause pain in the muscle. Muscle strains are classified according to three degrees.

Grade 1: Mild muscle tear and it only affects a few of the muscle fibers. Range of motion remains grossly intact and strength deficits are mild.

Grade 2: Moderate muscle tearing that may involve half of the fibers or more. This is accompanied by a decrease in strength and decrease in range of motion.

Grade 3: This is a severe strain and indicates complete rupture of the muscle. This may cause swelling, bruising, and loss of muscular strength, as well as muscular defect.

What Are The Causes Of A Pulled Muscle?

Muscle strain occurs when the muscle can’t handle the demand placed on it and a degree of muscle tearing occurs as a result.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of A Muscle Tear?

Signs and symptoms of a muscle strain include:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Decreased range of motion

What Are The Risk Factors Of A Muscle Pull?

It is more likely to occur in situations where a person performs an explosive action, like sprinting or jumping, during an eccentric (muscle lengthening action), or during sudden increases in activity. A muscle that crosses two joints or that has a high percentage of type 2 fibers is also more likely to suffer a strain or tear.

How Is A Strained Muscle Diagnosed?

Muscle strain may be diagnosed by patient history, examination and special testing. MRI may be helpful but is not always necessary.

What Are The Possible Treatments For A Muscle Strain?

Most muscle strains are typically treated conservatively, with only some severe/complete tears requiring surgical intervention. Initially protection, (relative) rest, ice, compression, and elevation is recommended. Medication may be recommended by a medical doctor. Physical therapy may begin immediately after a muscle strain (or a few weeks later, depending on medical doctors input). Physical therapists will use a variety of techniques to treat strains, including soft tissue mobilization, edema reduction techniques, taping, stretching, joint mobilization, cold laser treatment, patient specific therapeutic exercise, stability training, and neuromuscular re-education (balance training).

Are There Preventative Steps To Avoid A Pulled Muscle?

Maintaining proper muscle strength, stability, and flexibility is useful in avoiding muscle strains. Proper warm up pre-exercise is also helpful to prepare the muscle for the demands that will be placed on it to aid in avoiding muscle strain. Cool down and stretching post exercise and regular stretching during days where exercise does not occur is also useful in maintaining flexibility and healthy muscle length.

What Are The Risks If A Muscle Tear Is Left Untreated?

Overtime muscle strains may heal themselves, but without proper muscle function (i.e. strength/range of motion/stability, etc.) a strain may be more likely to occur again

Key Takeaways About A Muscle Strain

  • Muscle strains or muscle “pulls” are tears that occur in the muscle. They may be classified according to three different grades, Grade 1: mild (few fibers tear), grade 2: moderate (many fibers tear), grade 3: severe (complete rupture).
  • Physical therapy aids in reducing tear related symptoms, like swelling, bruising, and pain. PT focuses on manual techniques, therapeutic exercise, and neuromuscular re-education to improve muscle length/tightness, strength, muscular stability, joint mobility, and range of motion. The goal of PT is to treat the underlying cause of the injury as well as the taking care of the symptoms.
  • Muscle tearing does not always require imaging to diagnose. Your PT will work with your medical doctor to decide if imaging is appropriate for you.
  • It is important to focus on eccentric (muscle contraction in a lengthening direction) muscle work in addition to concentric (muscle contraction in shortening direction) activations.


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