Muscle Strains

By Michelle Duclos, MA, ATC, LAT, CES

Overview of Muscle Strains

A common injury in athletics is a muscle strain, more often known as a pulled muscle. Muscle strains typically occur as a result of one of two reasons: 1) the muscle has been stretched past its limit; 2) the muscle has been forced to contract too strongly. A pulled muscle can vary in terms of severity, ranging from mild to severe.  The most common muscle strains occur in the low back muscles or the hamstring muscle in the back of your leg.  However, any muscle in your body can have a strain. 

Watch this VIDEO on Muscle Strains to learn more. 

Muscle Strain Grades

To help diagnose the severity of the injury, a muscle strain can fall into one of the classifications:

Grade I strain-

The mildest strain. Only a few muscle fibers are stretched or torn. Although the injured muscle is tender and painful, it has normal strength.

Grade II strain

Moderate strain. More injured fibers, with some tearing possible and more severe muscle pain and tenderness. There is also mild swelling, noticeable loss of strength, and sometimes a bruise.

Grade III strain-

Severe strain. The muscle fiber is torn all the way through with this injury.

Muscle strains are categorized by severity with labels of grade 1 through 3. JOI Rehab

Grades of muscle strains by JOI Rehab










The risk of pulling a muscle is typically higher during high-intensity activity, such as athletics or gym workouts.  Contact sports also have an increased risk of muscle strains.  However, muscle strains can occur during any form of activity, including things as simple as walking down the stairs.  Often, doing yardwork on the weekends is a common cause of muscles strains. 

Zoomed in image of the muscles and tendons in elbow. This is a common place for a muscle strain to occur also referred to as tennis elbow. JOI Rehab

Muscle Strain in Elbow

Causes of Strains

Here are some of the most common causes of muscle strains.

  • Poor, or complete lack of warm-up before activity
  • Lack of flexibility or stretching before the activity
  • Poor conditioning
  • Overexertion
  • Unusual body movements or doing activities that you have not done before.

How do you know it is a Muscle Strain?

The symptoms of a pulled muscle may vary slightly depending on severity. Symptoms may include:

  • Sharp pain, especially after an activity that stretches or violently contracts the muscle.  
  • Tenderness over the muscle
  • Bruising, redness, or other discoloration
  • Muscle spasm
  • A “popping” sensation
  • Swelling or stiffness
  • Weakness or the inability to contract or use the muscle

Symptoms unique to a more severe strain include:

  • An indent or other defect in the normal outline of the muscle
  • A decrease or complete loss of muscle function

Treatment of Strains

Most muscle strains can be successfully treated by using the RICE Protocol at home.  The most frequently used, and most effective treatment for minor muscle strains is the RICE Protocol. At home you may use the following treatments:

Rest: avoid using your muscle for a few days, especially if movement causes an increase in pain

Ice: will help minimize pain and swelling. Apply a pack for about 20 minutes

Compression: Will help minimize swelling and provide stability to the affected muscle

Elevation: Keep the injured muscle above the level of your heart when possible

Laser or Massage Therapy

Book an Appointment with The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute Today!

JOI Physicians continue to offer online new patient appointments. This is another option to make it more convenient to make new patient appointments with less phone hold times. Follow the link below to select your JOI MD and schedule online.

You can still call 904-JOI-2000 to make new patient JOI Physician Appointments if that is your preference.

New To JOI: You now can make and cancel follow-up appointments for your JOI Physician through the JOI Portal.

To make appointments with JOI Rehab, please call 904-858-7045.

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