What Causes A Muscle Strain?

January 14, 2023

Muscle strains are most commonly overuse injuries, but they can sometimes stem from a traumatic impact or wrenching of the muscle. A strain can also occur if the muscle is too fatigued to perform and becomes torn or stretched. In the majority of cases, patients will feel the strain in their muscle when the initial injury happens. The pain can come on suddenly and feel like soreness, throbbing, or more sharp pain. The patient's muscles might feel stiff, weak, or have a limited movement range. Affected individuals might also experience swelling, redness, and bruising around the affected area. Individuals need to understand what causes muscle strains so they can recognize one if it happens. Mild strains usually resolve with at-home treatment, but more severe strains might need to be evaluated by a doctor.

Not Warming Up Properly

If individuals don't warm up properly before they engage in exercise, they might end up suffering a muscle strain. Going through warm-up exercises allows the body to prepare itself for more intensive activity. If individuals go from being stationary to engaging in intense physical fitness, their muscles might not be stretched enough. They're more likely to tear or become strained. Warming up also has benefits to the cardiovascular system by increasing the individual's heart rate, allowing blood to flow to the muscles, and raising their core body temperature. When the blood flow increases, the muscles receive more nutrients and oxygen, which allows them to perform better. Individuals are less likely to suffer an overuse injury if they have used a warm-up routine to supply oxygen to their muscles. Typical warm-up exercises involve the same activity the individual is planning to do, but it's performed at a reduced intensity and slower pace. This lets their muscles become used to the way they're moving and wakes their body up to the impending physical fitness activity.

Overexertion And Overuse

Overexertion of the muscles can lead to an overuse injury like a muscle strain. If individuals work out too intensely after a long period without working out, or they engage in heavy active fitness and muscle training of the same muscle groups for too many days in a row, they'll be more likely to suffer an injury. Some individuals experience soreness in their muscles following intensive workouts. In much rarer cases, overexerting the muscles can cause such a severe tear that they need to be surgically repaired. If individuals do develop a muscle strain as a result of overexertion, it might happen during their workout or physical labor job. It's common for individuals to describe hearing a snapping or popping noise. This occurs when the muscle tissue has been stretched to such a large extent that it snaps. The pop or snap also tends to be accompanied by pain. Not all strains will come with a snap or pop, and some strains might not even cause obvious tearing to the muscle fibers.

Poor Flexibility

Poor flexibility has a strong correlation with muscle strain injuries. Individuals might be surprised by the number of injuries for which poor flexibility is a contributing factor. Sometimes individuals experience muscle strains if they engage in stretches that tighten their muscles. A little stretching is good, as it helps to elongate the muscle and release tension. But stretching too far can cause the muscle to become overstretched and torn. In addition to these cases, however, poor flexibility can also be a contributor to common shoulder and backaches. Studies have indicated the more flexible an individual is, the lower the chances they will experience chronic or occasional back pain are. When individuals don't stretch for a long time, their muscles tighten up and become tenser, which can easily lead to soreness and overuse injuries. The best way to increase flexibility is by engaging in gentle stretches every day. As the stretches get easier, individuals can increase the difficulty level and range of motion. Eventually, individuals will find their body's original range of motion restored.

Trauma To The Muscle

A muscle strain can sometimes occur if individuals experience trauma to the muscle. This trauma can take many forms. Depending on the type of trauma, a singular muscle strain might not be the only injury individuals suffer. If there's any chance a blunt impact has fractured any bones or dislocated any joints, it's important to see a doctor for imaging tests. The trauma from an impact won't always cause a muscle strain, but it might if the impact wrenches the individual's body in such a way that the muscle is stretched beyond its normal range of motion. One example would be if the individual's arm was accidentally wrenched behind their back in ways it shouldn't be. Some individuals experience muscle strain in their necks after an automobile crash because the force of the impact leads to whiplash. Whiplash is an injury that occurs when the head snaps backward and forward quickly and violently enough to cause damage to the neck muscles. Regardless of the injury, unexpected trauma is a rarer but not impossible cause of muscle strains.


Fatigue can play a significant role in the development of a muscle strain. Not only does muscle fatigue lead to strain in the same manner as overexertion, but chronic physical exhaustion might also increase an individual's risk of muscle strain. Research indicates muscle strains are found in more subjects who experience chronic sleep deprivation and tiredness than in those who have healthy sleep schedules. Fatigue can refer to overall tiredness or fatigue in a specific muscle. When an individual's entire body and brain are fatigued, it's because they haven't been resting enough, so their brain hasn't had the capacity to clear all the waste from it yet. This can have a detrimental effect on an individual's coordination, cognitive processing, and ability to function. Muscle fatigue is caused by using the same muscle repeatedly until it's exhausted. Eventually, the muscle reaches a point where it becomes stretched or torn because it hasn't been allowed to rest.

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