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Muscle Strain, Ambulatory Care

A muscle strain

is a twist, pull, or tear of a muscle or tendon. A tendon is a strong elastic tissue that connects a muscle to a bone.

Common symptoms include the following:

  • Bruised skin on the area of your injured muscle
  • Muscle soreness, cramps, or spasms
  • Little or stiff muscle movement, or loss of muscle strength
  • Swelling in the area of the injury
  • Muscle pain that gets worse with activity, or pain that moves or spreads to another body area
  • Crepitus (crackling sound or grating feeling) when you move your muscle

Seek immediate care for the following symptoms:

  • Sudden loss of feeling or movement in your injured muscle

Treatment for a muscle strain

may include any of the following:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Muscle relaxers help decrease pain and muscle spasms, and relax your muscles.
  • Steroid medicine may be given to decrease pain and inflammation.
  • Local anesthetic is medicine used to numb the area for a short time. This is often used if you have a muscle strain in your back.
  • Physical therapy exercises may help improve movement and decrease pain. Physical therapy can also help improve strength and decrease your risk for loss of function.
  • Surgery may be needed if your muscle strain does not heal after 6 months of treatment. Surgery may be done to drain blood that has pooled in your muscle. If your tendon was torn off of the bone, it may be put back with surgery.

Manage your symptoms:

  • Rest your muscle to allow your injury to heal. When the pain decreases, begin normal, slow movements. For mild and moderate muscle strains, rest your muscles for about 2 days. Rest for 10 to 14 days if you have a severe muscle strain. You may need to use crutches if your muscle strain is in your legs.
  • Apply ice on your injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Use an elastic bandage as directed. Wrap the bandage around the area to decrease swelling. It should be snug, but not too tight.
  • Elevate your injured muscle above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your injured muscle on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
  • Stretch and strengthen your muscles each day. Stretch for about 30 seconds, 4 times a day. Stretch the muscle until you feel a slight pull. Stop stretching if you feel pain. Start to exercise and strengthen your muscles slowly. Increase the time and amount you exercise.

Prevent another muscle strain:

  • Always wear proper shoes when you play sports. Replace your old running shoes with new ones often if you are a runner. Use shoe inserts or arch supports to correct leg or foot problems. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on shoe supports.
  • Do warm up and cool down exercises. Do stretching exercises before you work out or do sports activities. These exercises will help loosen and decrease stress on your muscles. Cool down and stretch after your workout. Do not stop and rest after a workout without cooling down first.

  • Keep your muscles strong with strength training exercises. Exercises such as weight lifting and stretching exercises help keep your muscles flexible and strong. A physical therapist or trainer may help you with these exercises.
  • Slowly start your exercise or sports training program. Follow your healthcare provider's directions on when to start exercising. Slowly increase time, distance, and how often you train. Sudden increases in how often you train may cause you to injure your muscle again.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.