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A strain is when a muscle becomes overstretched and tears. This painful injury, also called a "pulled muscle," can be caused by an accident, improper use of a muscle, or overuse of a muscle.

Alternative Names

Pulled muscle


A strain may be caused by:

  • Excessive physical activity or effort
  • Improperly warming up before a physical activity
  • Poor flexibility


Symptoms of a strain can include:

  • Pain and difficulty moving the injured muscle
  • Discolored and bruised skin
  • Swelling

First Aid

  • Apply ice immediately to reduce swelling. Wrap the ice in cloth. Do not place it directly on the skin. Apply ice for 10 to 15 minutes every 1 hour for the first day. Then, every 3 to 4 hours.
  • Use ice for the first 3 days. After that, either heat or ice may be helpful.
  • Rest the pulled muscle for at least a day. If possible, keep the pulled muscle raised about your heart.
  • Avoid using a strained muscle while it is still painful. When the pain starts to go away, you can slowly increase activity.

Call immediately for emergency medical assistance if

Call your local emergency number, such as 911, if:

  • You are unable to move the muscle.
  • The injury is bleeding.

Call your doctor if the pain does not go away after several weeks.


The following tips may help you reduce your risk of a strain:

  • Warm-up properly before exercise and sports.
  • Keep your muscles strong and flexible.


Brinker MR, O’Connor DP, Almekinders LC, et al. Physiology of Injury to Musculoskeletal Structures: 1. Muscle and Tendon Injury. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 1, section A.

Review Date: 5/1/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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