February 12, 2020

What is a Strain Injury?

what is a muscle strain

We all experience pain in our muscles from time to time. In some cases, it’s the result of a strain injury. What is a strain injury? Strains occur when a muscle or tendon is stretched farther than it should be or is torn. Strain injuries are common in the hamstrings (the muscles at the back of the thigh) and the muscles of the lower back, shoulders, and neck. Strains can cause pain and restricted movement.

What Is the Difference Between a Strain and a Sprain?

The terms strain and sprain are commonly used to refer to physical injuries. But what’s the difference between strain and sprain? A sprain is when a ligament (as opposed to a muscle or tendon) is twisted, overstretched or torn. Sprains are common in ankles, thumbs, wrists, and knees. Both strains and sprains produce pain, swelling, bruising, and limited movement of the affected area.

What Causes a Strain?

If you’ve ever suffered a strain, you may ask what causes neck strain or what causes back strain. The answer is that there are two types of strain: acute strain and chronic strain. Acute means a condition that comes on suddenly and tends to resolve more quickly than a chronic condition, which develops over time and can be an ongoing concern.

Causes of an acute strain include:

  • Running or jumping motions
  • Throwing motions
  • Slipping and/or falling
  • Lifting heavy objects, especially with improper technique

Causes of a chronic strain include:

  • Repetitive movements such as in sports like running, tennis or rowing
  • Sitting or standing in an unbalanced or awkward position for an extended period

What Are the Symptoms of a Muscle Strain?

If you’re wondering if you have a strain, look for these muscle strain symptoms:

  • Sudden onset of pain
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Cramping or muscle spasm
  • Bruising or discoloration
  • Muscle weakness
  • Restricted range of motion in the affected area

These symptoms tend to occur immediately or soon after the injury.

Seek Treatment for a Strain

Home treatment can be effective for a strain. It can be remembered with the acronym RICE:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

However, in some cases, you may need to get medical attention.

When to See a Doctor for a Muscle Strain:

Talk with your doctor if:

  • Pain and swelling don’t improve with RICE
  • Pain and swelling worsen
  • You have tingling or numbness in the affected area
  • You have trouble standing or walking
  • Movement and flexibility in the area don’t gradually improve
  • The joint seems unstable
  • You develop a fever or chills
  • The affected area has an unusual shape

Get Back to What you Love

Turn to the Baptist Health Orthopedic team if you need help with treating a muscle strain.

Request an Appointment 

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