How To Move Without Pain

Think you have a Muscle Strain? Ways to know

by Meghan Griech, PT, DPT, cert MDT, CKTP

This article takes 4 minutes to read

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Muscle strains can happen in any muscle. Although most prevalent in the lumbar (low back) musculature or hamstrings, muscle strains can also occur in the gastrocnemius muscle (calf) and shoulder muscles. Recognizing a strained muscle is important to the understanding of how to let the muscle heal and repair from the injury. 

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Sports and athletic activities are common ways muscles strain, yet anyone can be susceptible to a muscle strain.  This is especially true if your muscles are overworked or fatigued. 

Muscle strains cause pain and limited ROM (range of motion) that affect the muscle at the point of injury as well as the muscle as a whole. The symptoms can be sudden and can last weeks to months depending on the severity of the injury. Sports and

Common muscle strain symptoms include:

  • sudden onset of pain
  • muscle soreness
  • limited range of movement
  • swelling
  • a “knotted-up” feeling
  • muscle spasms
  • Stiffness at the nearby joint
  • weakness 
  • bruising or discoloration

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The severity of the muscle strain will determine the overall limitation and pain felt and the length of time it will take to heal. A mild muscle strain might feel sore and tight, but will still be flexible enough to move.

A severe muscle strain means there is a tear within the muscle, which results in it being swollen or painful.  Additionally, bruising may show, along with tightness and feelings of limited tolerance to using the muscle is common.

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Mild muscle strains can resolve in a few weeks after injury. Severe muscle strains can take months to heal. 

With a proper return to regular activity, stretching and strengthening a full recovery is possible. Muscle strains can take a week to repair and recover, slowly improving flexibility of the injured muscle and surrounding tissues is key to reduce the chance of reinjury. Relative rest is also a key factor in recovery.  This essentially means that you continue to stay as active as possible, only eliminating activities that aggravate the injured area.  This helps to maintain the muscle’s strength and will help you to recover more quickly.

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Understanding proper stretching technique is also instrumental to full muscle recovery, function and overall reduce the risk of re-injury.

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*Disclaimer: All information in this article is intended for instruction and informational purposes. The author(s) are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result.  This information is used to supplement not replace any advice you were provided from your doctor or another medical health professional.  No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied with this article.

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man in blue shorts and red shirt holding his strained muscle in his leg