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Muscle Strain

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Muscle Strain

(Pulled Muscle; Strain, Muscle)


A muscle strain is an injury to a muscle. It may be a stretch of the muscle or a partial or full tear.

Muscles of the Back

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A muscle strain is caused by stress that the muscle cannot withstand. This can happen when:

  • The muscle may not be ready for sudden stress
  • Tension may be too much for the muscle to bear, such as lifting a weight that is too heavy
  • The muscle is used too much in one day

Some muscles are more likely to be strained, such as:

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Athletic activities, especially those with running, lifting, and jumping
  • Tight muscles
  • Being very tired
  • Doing things that are harder than your ability level
  • Cold weather


Symptoms depend on how the muscle was strained.

Strain while doing physical activity:

  • Sudden soreness or pain in the affected muscle
  • Increased pain when using the muscle
  • Tenderness and swelling
  • Bruised skin
  • Pain when moving nearby joints

Strain from a buildup of stress:

  • Very sore muscle the day after doing a new activity
  • Pain or discomfort when using the muscle


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. You will also be asked how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the injured area. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

Tests are not usually needed. They may be done if there is severe pain or bleeding. Options are:


Treatment depends on the severity of the strain and the muscle involved. Options are:

  • Resting the muscle by limiting activities
  • Supportive care, such as ice and compression bandages
  • Medicines to ease pain and swelling, such as over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers
  • Therapy to help with strength and range of motion


Most muscle strains happen due to accidents. Regular exercise can help keep muscles healthy and lower the risk of injury.





  • Bayer ML, Hoegberget-Kalisz M, et al. Chronic Sequelae After Muscle Strain Injuries: Influence of Heavy Resistance Training on Functional and Structural Characteristics in a Randomized Controlled Trial. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2021;49(10):2783-2794. doi:10.1177/03635465211026623.
  • Hamstring strain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
  • Muscle strain: causes, symptoms, treatment. Hospital for Special Surgery website. Available at:
  • Pietsch S and Pizzari T. Risk factors for quadriceps muscle strain injuries in sport: a systematic review. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2022;52(6):389-400.
  • Sprains, strains, and other soft-tissue injuries. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedics website. Available at:
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.