Muscle Strains / Pulled muscles

What are muscle strains?

Similar to a sprain, when a muscle stretches beyond its capability it tears either on a microscopic level, partially through the muscle, or entirely through the muscle. Often called a pulled muscle.  Muscles that have larger amount of high twitch muscle fibers used for fast and powerful movement, such as running or sprinting, tear more often than other types of muscles. Hamstrings, quadriceps, and the gastrocnemius strain more often than other muscles due to their composition, use in running and sprinting, and because they attach to two joints which causes tension from two directions.  The risk of strain also commonly manifests in muscles of the lower back, shoulders, neck, arms, and the hips.  Physicians define strains by breaking them into three categories or grades.  Grade one strains involve stretching muscles to the point they tear microscopically or up to 5% of the muscle.  Grade two strains have tearing between 5% and 100%.  Grade three strains completely tear the muscle.

Preventing muscle strains 

muscle strainAthletes may protect themselves from muscle strains by properly balancing their muscles groups.  Balanced and strong muscles tear much less frequently than unbalanced weak muscles.  Taking a few minutes before heavy exercise or competition to warm up the muscles and stretch them out effectively reduces the chance of strain as well.



A light warm up involves increasing the blood flow and temperature of the body.  A proper warm up can be a simple as a brisk walk or other light cardiovascular exercise.  By increasing temperature and blood flow the muscles loosen up a little bit and pose less risk of tearing muscle as well as a myriad of other conditions.


Stretching during or after a warm-up increases the flexibility and mobility of each muscle stretched.  Flexible warmed muscles pose less risk of injury.  Working through each muscle group with slow and sustained flexibility increasing stretches.  Stretching helps prevent many sports injuries including injuries of the back.

Strength training

Romanian DeadliftAn athlete paying attention to properly balancing complimentary muscles and focuses on maximizing range of motion acquires additional protection against straining muscles when using short bursts of explosive force in training or competition.  Most often athletes neglect their hamstrings while strength training.  The complementary muscle, the quadriceps, have many exercises that isolate or even just favor them over the hamstring.  Not only does a quadriceps dominant leg put the athlete at increased risk of hamstring strain, but also increased risk damage to tendons and the ligaments of the knee, such as tearing your ACL, MCL, PCL, and Meniscus.

Treating muscle strains

When treating a muscle strain first aid dictates the use of R.I.C.E. and NSAIDs.  Rest, Ice, compression, elevation, and NSAIDs reduce the swelling, stiffness, and pain associated with minor strains.  Larger strains, such as grade two and grade three strains, cause bruising in addition to swelling, stiffness, and pain.  Grade three strains completely tear the muscle and are subject to retracting.  Complete tears of muscle cause loss of strength and may require surgical correction to regain function.  Grade 1 strains heal in a few weeks.  Grade 2 strains heal in two to three months and may need physical therapy or surgical intervention.  Grade 3 strains do not heal without surgical intervention.

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