Open Accessibility Menu

Sign up for Live Healthy eNewsletter here.

What to do When You Feel the Pain from a Muscle Strain

What to do When You Feel the Pain from a Muscle Strain

What to do When You Feel the Pain From a Muscle Strain

A muscle strain is a common soft-tissue injury, especially in athletes or people who exercise regularly. If you experience muscle pain, you may not need to rush to the emergency department. Some injuries can be handled at home.

How Do Muscle Strains Happen?

Each of your muscles is made of muscle fibers, all bound together by connective tissue. Muscle fibers are relatively soft and fragile, making the connective tissue covering necessary.

A muscle strain, also called a pulled muscle, happens when those muscle fibers are torn or stretched too far because they were either extended beyond what they are capable of or forced into a too-powerful contraction. Strains can happen suddenly or develop over time.

You can strain a muscle playing sports, during physical activities, or even during your normal daily routine by lifting a heavy box or bending a certain way.

Many muscle strains happen in the legs, neck, and back.

What a Muscle Strain Feels Like

If you’ve ever experienced a muscle strain, you probably know how badly it can hurt. If you haven’t, muscle strains can have the following symptoms:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle pain, which is usually worse with movement
  • Spasms
  • Weakness of the injured muscle

Apart from feeling the pain, you may also notice bruising and swelling. Acute muscle strains may even make a popping or snapping sound when the strain happens.

Home Treatments and Remedies

A great home remedy for muscle pain involved the R.I.C.E. method:

  • Rest — One of the most important things you can do to relieve a muscle strain is to rest. While resting, your body has the chance to repair itself. Additionally, by not using the injured muscle while resting, you won’t risk hurting it further.
  • Ice — Cold therapy with ice acts as an anti-inflammatory treatment and decreases blood flow to the injury, which can help reduce swelling and may help reduce pain. To use cold therapy as one of your home remedies for muscle strain, apply ice with an ice pack or cold compress. Don’t place the ice pack directly on the skin. Instead, wrap the ice in a hand towel or something similar to keep your skin from prolonged direct exposure to the ice. Hold the wrapped ice against the affected area for 20 minutes once every one or two hours.
  • Compression – Applying compression with an elastic bandage or trainer’s tape can help reduce swelling. Wrap the area tightly but not so much that you cut off blood flow. You’ll know the bandage is too tight if you feel numbness, tingling, or more pain or notice increased swelling just below the bandage or tape.
  • Elevation — Elevate the injured muscle above chest level, if possible to reduce swelling and bruising by decreasing blood flow to the area. Try elevating your injury for two to three hours a day.

If you are in pain, over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, may help.

RICE and over-the-counter pain relievers will ease your muscle pain better than other home remedies, such as Epsom salt baths, which have little scientific evidence to show they work.

Time to Call the Office

If your injury isn’t getting any better at home, it may be time to contact your primary care provider. You may need medical attention if you heard a pop when the injury happened or have:

  • An injury keeping you from completing your normal daily activities
  • Difficulty bending or straightening your joint
  • Excessive bruising
  • Severe pain or swelling that limits your range of motion

Your primary care provider may recommend prescription medications, physical therapy, and, in some cases, with a splint or temporary cast. Your provider may also refer you to an orthopedic specialist.

The Best Treatment Is Prevention

Sometimes accidents happen, but you can help decrease your risk of straining your muscles with a few preventive measures.

Many muscle strains can be prevented through proper conditioning. Keep your body in shape by getting enough physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends fitting in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, or a combination of the two. Aerobic activity is anything that increases your heart rate, such as walking, cycling, and swimming.

Use proper technique when lifting. This means lifting with your legs instead of your back and asking for help if something is too heavy to lift on your own.

Warm up before you participate in sports or other physical activities, even before stretching. Walk in place for a few minutes and practice the motions of the exercise you’re about to do. Warming up increases blood flow to your muscles and loosens up your body.

Wear shoes that keep you stable and give you enough support to protect your ankles. When walking, keep an eye out for uneven surfaces or places that cause you to slip.

Finally, if you do get hurt, don’t try to play through the pain. Muscle strains can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to heal. Avoid further injury by letting your body rest and heal at its own pace.

If you are experiencing muscle pain from an injury, the Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County Walk-In Clinic is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday.