What are muscle strains?

Muscle strains are common workplace and sports injuries affecting the muscles or its tendons. Strains occur when your muscle is excessively stretched beyond its limit or torn causing pain and inflammation. If your tendon is injured, it is medically known as tendonitis / tendinitis.

Causes of muscle strains

Muscle strains occur because of an overstretching/overuse injury or sudden movements such as throwing (pitching), sprinting, or jumping. Increasing the weight, duration, or intensity of your workout too fast and too soon may lead to injury of your muscles.

Severity of muscle strain / Grades

Muscle strains have different severities and can be grade I, II, or III.

Grade I strain, also called mild muscle strain, is overstretching of the muscle with or without minimal muscle tearing.

Grade II strain, the muscle is overstretched with tearing of muscle tissues. The tear, however, is incomplete. A grade II strain is also called a moderate strain.

Grade III (severe) strain is the most painful. It occurs when most of the muscle fibers or the entire muscle is torn.


The symptoms that you experience depend on the severity of your injury. The most common symptoms are pain and swelling at the site of injury. Other symptoms may include

  • Tenderness
  • Bruising
  • Difficulty moving / pain that worsens with movement
  • Muscle spasm
  • Muscle weakness
  • A “popping” sensation at the time of injury
  • Uneven muscle (deformity) compared to the other (severe tearing)

If you experience severe pain and swelling or are unsure of the severity of your injury, don’t hesitate to consult your health care provider.


Minor muscle strains can be successfully treated with rest, ice application, compression and elevation. This is called RICE therapy.

Rest. Try to avoid movements that make your symptoms worse. You may have to modify your activities for a while.

Ice. Apply an ice pack while resting to help minimize your pain and swelling. Wrap the pack with towel and apply for 20 minutes at a time every 3 to 4 hours a day. Continue doing this for the first two to three days following your injury or until your symptoms of pain and swelling have cleared up.

Compression. Loosely wrap a compression bandage or an Ace wrap on your injured limb to help control your swelling. If you are unsure of how to do this, ask a trained professional such as a doctor or physiotherapist to teach you or do it for you.

Elevation. Elevate your injured limb above the level of your heart. Elevating your limb may help reduce or control your swelling.

Other treatment options

  • Over the counter pain medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Modified immobilization
  • Physiotherapy
    • Modalities, such as TENS and ultrasound
    • Range of motion exercises
    • Stretching and strengthening exercises
    • Work or sport-specific rehabilitation program