Guide To The Symptoms Of A Muscle Strain

Muscle strains, also commonly known as pulled muscles, are injuries that occur when a muscle in the body becomes torn or overstretched. Most individuals experience muscle strains because of fatigue, improperly using their muscle, or overusing the muscle. A strain can occur in any muscle throughout the body, but they are more common in the hamstring, shoulder, neck, and lower back. The strains typically cause pain, and they can sometimes limit an individual's ability to move the affected muscle or muscles. The symptoms of a severe strain are often similar to those of a broken bone, so individuals should double-check they do not have a fracture.

Muscle strain treatment is quite simple and has many options. Many individuals may want to take pain relief medication to help with their muscle strain. One example is an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen for pain relief. Of course, rest is a common way to achieve relief, including neck strain relief. Reports show that cool compresses, including ice packs, are a common natural remedy for muscle strains. However, patients should first learn to recognize the symptoms of a muscle strain.

Swelling And Redness


A muscle strain is an injury, and the body will react accordingly. Not every muscle strain will present with swelling and redness, though these symptoms are a good indicator of injury. Swelling is a reaction to the injury that causes the affected body part to become enlarged. When related to a muscle strain, the swelling may be caused by either ongoing inflammation or fluid buildup. When tissues outside of the joints swell, this is called edema. If swelling occurs inside the joint, it is called effusion. 

Acute swelling is used to describe any swelling that happens in the twenty-four hours following the initial injury. Chronic swelling happens over longer periods, and it may happen with repeated minor strains. When the body senses that it has been injured, it dispatches fluid and white blood cells to the affected area. This causes the body to release chemicals and for the fluid to compress the nerves around the injury, leading to ongoing pain.



A muscle strain can also sometimes cause bruising, depending on the location and the extent of the injury. When the muscle tears, it can damage the small blood vessels that surround the muscle and supply the tissue with nutrients. Damaged vessels can trigger local bleeding under the skin. This bleeding shows up as a bruise or multiple bruises around the affected area. Since the blood is not contained by the ruptured vessel walls, it leaks into places it is not supposed to be and pools there. 

Bruising is not always serious, though multiple unexplained bruises may be a sign that there is an underlying condition causing clotting problems. There are a variety of other injuries that may mimic a muscle strain and cause bruising as well. One of the most common is an ankle fracture. A strained ankle, sprained ankle, and broken ankle will often present with the same symptoms.

Muscle Pain


One of the key symptoms of a muscle strain is muscle pain. It is possible to strain a muscle without pain. However, the vast majority of cases present with some pain in or around the injured area. This is because the torn or stretched muscle fibers are sending signals to the nerves indicating there is something wrong. As an individual's immune system sends healing agents to begin repairs, the swelling can cause the nerves to become pinched. Due to this, a swollen injury can sometimes be more painful than a non-swollen injury, even if the degree of the actual tear is around the same. 

The type of pain will vary, but it often manifests as a dull aching or throbbing with mild strains. With more intense strains, individuals may have trouble moving the muscle group at all without a sharp or shooting pain. If an individual experiences sharp and intense pain following an impact or ripping injury, it is best for them to see a doctor to make sure the tear is not severe.

Muscle Or Tendon Weakness


Depending on the location and the degree of the strain, the injury may also present with some muscle or tendon weakness. If individuals strain a muscle in their leg or near their ankle, they may find that they have trouble bearing weight on that leg until the strain has healed. Similarly, if they strain a muscle in their hand, it may be difficult to lift or balance objects. Some individuals might experience weakness in their arms if they have certain shoulder tears, and tears in the neck muscles can lead to pain and weakness throughout different parts of the back. 

The strangest part is that the weak-feeling muscle or tendon will not always be the one that was injured. Sometimes it will be a muscle connected to or supported by the injured one. If an individual is experiencing weakness in their hand, the injury can be anywhere along their arm or shoulder or even their back. When the weakness is serious enough to impede daily activities or a muscle strain does not explain it, individuals should see a doctor. This will help them make sure there is not a more serious underlying cause.

Limited Range of Motion


Individuals with a strained muscle may have limits to the muscle's range of motion. In severe cases, they may not be able to use the muscle at all. This is more likely if the tear goes all the way through the muscle than if it is a minor stretching. If individuals are experiencing an impediment in their ability to move that is affecting their daily activities, they may want to see a doctor. This is especially true for those who have a limited range of motion after an impact injury or forcible stretching injury. Overuse injuries may limit the range of motion due to pain without having damaged the actual structures supporting the muscles. One common example would be sleeping wrong and waking up with a muscle strain in the neck. It may be hard for individuals to turn their head, though the pain should subside in a day or so.

Muscle Spasms


Many individuals will deal with muscle spasms as a warning sign of a muscle strain. Of course, muscle spasms are characterized by the sudden and involuntary movement of one of the patient’s muscles. Spasms may occur in more than one muscle at a time. Patients also refer to muscle spasms as muscle twitches, cramps, and even a charley horse. Muscle spasms are quite common and in many cases, is not a significant cause for concern. This includes when a muscle strain is the cause, though of course, treatment is still needed. Other reasons for muscle spasms include dehydration, stress, and exercise. In the case of exercise, the muscle is likely strained as well.

Muscle Stiffness


As mentioned previously, many patients will have limited range of motion in their affected muscle as a symptom of a muscle strain. A similar symptom to this is muscle stiffness. Most patients will notice a muscle strain as it happens, particularly if it was the result of over-exercising. However, this is not always the case. Muscle stiffness becomes a significant sign of a muscle strain when patients start to suspect that something is wrong with their muscle a little while after the cause actually occurred. A mild strain typically results in mild stiffness, so patients should still have enough flexibility to move and use their affected muscle. A severe muscle strain will trigger significant muscle stiffness as a symptom.

Pop In The Muscle


Patients will often notice that they have strained their muscle as it is happening, even if they do not realize that it is a muscle strain at the time. One of the reasons for this is because many individuals will feel or hear a pop in the muscle when it is strained. Others describe the popping as a snapping sensation. The pop in the muscle is what occurs when patients strain their muscles to the point of the tissue snapping. This is quite painful for individuals to experience, and is fairly difficult to miss. Even if the muscle tissue does not snap completely, patients may still deal with a popping sensation due to the overstretching.


    Katherine MacAulay