Munson Health
Muscle Strain

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by Leach R

(Pulled Muscle; Strain, Muscle)



Treatment depends on the severity of the strain and the muscle involved.

Acute Care

Your muscle will need time to heal. Avoid activities that place extra stress on the affected area. In general:
  • Do not do activities that cause pain.
  • If normal walking hurts, shorten your stride.
  • Do not play sports until your doctor has said it is safe to do so.
Apply an ice or a cold pack to the area for 15-20 minutes, four times a day, for several days after the injury. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel.
Pain Relief Medications
To manage pain, your doctor may recommend:
  • Over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen
  • Topical pain medication—creams or patches that are applied to the skin
  • Prescription pain relievers
Compression can help prevent more swelling. Your doctor may recommend an elastic compression bandage around the affected muscle. Be careful not to wrap the bandage too tight.
Elevation can also help keep swelling down. If possible, keep the affected muscle higher than your heart as much as possible for the first 24 hours or so. A couple of days of elevation might be recommended for severe strains.

Recovery Steps

Rehabilitation with a physical therapist may be required.
Use heat only when you are returning to physical activity. Heat may be used before stretching or getting ready to play sports to help loosen the muscle.
Begin stretching exercises for your muscles as recommended.


American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine - American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons



Health Canada

Public Health Agency of Canada



Counsel P, Breidahl W. Muscle injuries of the lower leg. Semin Musculoskelet Radiol. 2010 Jun;14(2):162-175.

Muscle strain. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: Accessed May 13, 2014.

Orchard J, Best TM, et al. Return to play following muscle strains. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. 2005 Nov;15(6):436-41.

Sprains, strains, and other soft-tissue injuries. American Academy of Orthopaedics website. Available at: Updated July 2007. Accessed May 13, 2014.

Zeni A, Morfe EG. Frontera: Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Hanley and Belfus; 2002; chap 62.

1/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Massey T, Derry S, Moore R, McQuay H. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(6):CD007402.


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