Muscle strain, also known as pulled muscle occurs when the muscle is overstretched or torn. Strains can happen in any muscle, but they are most common in the lower back, shoulder, neck and leg.
The strain occurs mostly because of overuse, improper use of the muscle, lack of warm-up before exercise and fatigue. It can lead to restricted movement of the affected muscle and pain. Where the strain is low level it can easily be treated at home with anti-inflammatories or pain killers and ice or heat treatments and may take a few weeks to heal fully. More severe strains or tears can take much longer and need additional therapies to aid healing.
A muscle strain can usually be felt as it occurs. Symptoms include:
- Sudden onset of pain
- Limited or restricted movement
- Bruising or discolouration
Acute muscle strain is felt immediately as the strain or tear occurs. It can be caused by:
- Not warming up properly before exercise
- Poor conditioning
- Limited flexibility
- Overuse of the muscle
- Cold weather – as the muscle is cold
A chronic strain occurs when there is sustained overuse of the muscle and are common where there is a repetitive movement for example in swimming (swimmers’ shoulder), golf, or plastering in the construction industry.
Many minor strains can be treated at home using the RICE method:
- Rest – cease from any activity that may have caused the injury in the first place
- Ice – Apply an ice pack (of a bag of frozen peas) to the injured area for 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours
- Compress – support the injury by wrapping it in a bandage
- Elevate – to help reduce swelling raise the injured area for example with a pillow
If the pain persists, or for more severe strains painkillers and anti-inflammatories can be effective.
Physical treatments on the muscle to help reduce the strain and improve flexibility and strength are also useful to clear the pain.