Muscle Strains

A strain is an overstretch or tear to a muscle or tendon that occurs around the joints as a result of a variety of activities. Tendons are dense fibrous connective cords of tissue that attach muscles to bones or structures and initiate movement. Common causes that can cause strains can include improper lifting techniques, repetitive movements at work, home or school and traumatic injuries (e.g., abrupt falls with twisting or pivoting movements, etc.).


Common symptoms of strains include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain around the injured joint
  • Edema (swelling)
  • Limited flexibility and range of motion due to pain

Treatment for Strains

Directly after a strain, control the swelling with PRICE for 24 to 48 hours:

  • Protect the area from further injury by using a sling for an arm or shoulder injury or crutches for a leg or foot injury.
  • Rest the injured joint/extremity.
  • Ice for 20 minutes every hour.
  • Compress with an elastic Ace bandage or brace for an ankle or knee, a splint for an injured finger or buddy-taping for an injured toe.
  • Elevate above the heart, if possible.

An over-the-counter acetaminophen, such as Tylenol® or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as Advil® may help with reducing the swelling and pain/ pressure relief. After this home treatment, be sure to have the injury evaluated by your doctor to rule out a fracture or a severe strain.

Most mild strains heal within a few days to a week. Once the swelling goes down and your strain is feeling better, we can help you regain your range of motion and show you injury prevention techniques to help prevent future strains.

If your symptoms don't improve within a couple of days, or you experience any of the following, see your doctor to have it immediately evaluated:

  • An audible "popping" sound with the injury
  • Pain and swelling that gets worse over time
  • Fever or chills
  • Difficulty standing or walking without pain
  • Limited flexibility and range of movement around the injured joint
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Joint/extremity deformity or signs of instability

Moderate strains may require bracing for a period of time, followed by physical therapy to help regain normal function and range of motion. Severe strains may require surgery to repair the tear, followed by physical therapy to rehabilitate the injury.