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Muscle strains – causes, symptoms and other factors

Muscle strains or pulled muscle is happening when your muscle is torn or overstretched. This condition usually is happening as a result improper, overuse or fatigue of a muscle. Strains can happen in any muscle of our bodies but they are most common in your hamstring, shoulder, neck and lower back, which is the muscle behind your thigh. These strains can cause pain and they can limit your movement within the affected muscle group. You can treat mild to moderate strains at your home with ice, heat and anti – inflammatory medications. Severe tears or strains may require medical treatment. Muscle pull, muscle strain or even a muscle tear refers to damage to a muscle or its attaching tendons. You can put undue pressure on muscles while performing work tasks, during sports, during the course of normal daily activities with sudden heavy lifting [1]. Muscle damage can be in the form of tearing of muscle fibers and tendons which are attached to that muscle. It can be part of the muscle fibers and tendons or all of them. The tearing of the muscle can also damage our small blood vessels which is causing bruising, local bleeding and pain which are caused by irritation of the nerve endings in that area.

A muscle strains

Symptoms of muscle strains

When the muscle strains occur, then we usually feel it. Here are the symptoms of muscle strain [1]:

  • Weakness
  • Stiffness
  • Muscle spasms
  • A “knotted – up” feeling
  • Inability to fully stretch your injured muscle
  • Swelling
  • Bruising or discoloration
  • Limited range of movement
  • Soreness
  • Sudden onset of pain
  • Pain at rest
  • Muscle tightness
  • Inability to use the muscle at all
  • Pain when the specific muscle or the joint in relation to that muscle is used

When you have a mild strain, then a torn muscle may feel slightly but still flexible enough to use. When your muscle is severely torn, then this is a severe muscle strain. This leads to pain and very limited movement. The symptoms of mild to moderate muscle strains usually go away within a few weeks while more severe strains may take months to heal. Mild to moderate muscle strains are usually treated at home and they do not need any medical help. If you cannot walk you cannot move your arms or legs, then you should seek for medical help. If there is a blood coming from your injury, the injured area is numb or the pain does not subside after a week, then you need to visit your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will make imaging and physical examination tests which can help your doctor to determine the extent of your injury. There are rare cases when surgery is required to repair the muscle [2]. Also you should seek medical help if you hear a popping sound with the injury or you cannot walk. You should never risk on your own with some natural cure or medication to use as your treatment.

Causes of muscle strains

When your muscle tears suddenly and unexpectedly, this is known as an acute muscle strain. This can be due to:

  • Overexertion and fatigue [1,3]
  • Poor conditioning
  • Poor flexibility [4]
  • Not warming up properly before physical activity [5]

There are some people who say that muscle strains can be only caused by rigorous exercises and workouts of high intensity. But also there are other studies in which is said that muscle strains can occur from walking. An acute strain can happen when you:

  • Lift something while in you’re in an awkward position [1]
  • Life something heavy [1]
  • Throw something
  • Run
  • Jump
  • Slip or lose your footing

Acute muscle strains are happening more often in cold weather [6]. We know that this is happening because our muscles are stiffer in lower temperatures. Also we know that it is important to take extra time to warm up in these conditions to prevent strains. The repetitive movement can lead to chronic muscle strains. This can be due to:

  • Poor posture [7]
  • Holding your back or neck in awkward position for long periods of time such as when you work at a desk
  • Sports like rowing, tennis, golf or baseball

You should try not to sit in one position for too long. You should always maintain a good posture when sitting or standing. You should lift objects carefully, else you are prone to get muscle strains.


[1] Ashton-Miller JA. Response of muscle and tendon to injury and overuse. In Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders: Report, Workshop Summary, and Workshop Papers. 1999.

[2] Järvinen TAH, Järvinen M, Kalimo H. Regeneration of injured skeletal muscle after the injury. Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal. 2013;3(4):337–45.

[3] Wan J, Qin Z, Wang P, et al. Muscle fatigue: general understanding and treatment. Experimental & Molecular Medicine. 2017;49(10):e384.

[4] Gleim GW, McHugh MP. Flexibility and its effects on sports injury and performance. Sports Medicine. 1997;24(5):289-99.

[5] Woods K, Bishop P, Jones E. Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Sports Medicine. 2007;37(12):1089-99.

[6] Çakir E, Yüksek S, Asma B, Arslanoğlu E. Effects of different environment temperatures on some motor characteristics and muscle strength. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education. 2016;11(10):3985-93.

[7] Kim D, Cho M, Park Y, Yang Y. Effect of an exercise program for posture correction on musculoskeletal pain. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2015;27(6):1791–4.

Dr. Emil Sarsath (aka) Vijila, a licensed naturopathic doctor (BSMS) who always ensures his patients receive compassionate, and individualized care. He has extensive experience in primary care, digestive health, mental health, nervous system disorder and more.Area of Expertise – Naturopathic Medicine, Whole Foods-based Nutrition, Siddha, Panchakarma.She is always available through [email protected]


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