A strain, also known as a pulled muscle, happens when a muscle is overstretched and tears. Torn tendons, the structure that connects muscles to bone, can also be classified as strains when they are twisted and injured during physical accidents. Common strained areas include the feet, knees, legs, and back.

Last Updated: February 25, 2024

Strains may develop suddenly (acute) or progress slowly over time (chronic).


Acute strains usually result from accidents or physical trauma. Causes of acute strains include:

  • Improper lifting of a heavy object
  • Running, jumping, throwing
  • Slipping or falling


Chronic strains develop from repetitive movements involved in sports and physical activities. These include running, rowing, or weight lifting. When working in an office, sitting or standing in an awkward position for prolonged periods of time can also cause chronic strain.


People with a history of strain are more likely to strain the affected area again. Overweight people, athletes, and people that are starting to exercise are also some groups that are at a higher risk for strain injuries.

The symptoms of a strain will vary depending on the severity of the injury and these include:

  • Pain or tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Muscle weakness, spasms, or cramping
  • Limited movement in the area

Physicians usually diagnose a strain injury by a history and physical exam. They can examine the affected joint or muscle group’s strength and range of motion while looking for pain, tenderness, or weakness. 


Most mild cases of strains can be treated at home and the R.I.C.E. guideline was created to facilitate self-care:

  • Rest the affected muscle by not using or moving it
  • Ice the strain to lessen the swelling. Use a cloth to cover the ice and do not apply it to the area for more than 20 minutes
  • Compression can help keep down the swelling
  • Elevate the injury to reduce swelling and pain


Swelling usually goes down in a few days and most strains will feel better after two weeks. Some severe cases, however, can take longer to fully heal and might require rehabilitation to recover the muscle’s original strength and range of motion.

Regular stretching and warm up before playing your sport or doing an exercise can help reduce the risk of strains. Strengthening the muscle around the joint can also help reduce the risk for strains since this would provide the area with its own natural protection against trauma that would otherwise cause strains. Furthermore, investing in good and comfortable sportswear can help. Lastly, taking regular breaks when sitting or standing in one position for too long or performing repetitive actions can help prevent overusing different muscle groups.

Last Updated: February 25, 2024