This text complies with the requirements of medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been reviewed by medical experts.
A muscle strain is the result of overstretching the muscle. The cause is often a sudden overload. In principle you can pull any skeletal muscle. Muscle strain particularly often affects the back, thigh and calf muscles. Here you can read everything important on the topic: How does a strain develop? What symptoms does it cause? How is she diagnosed? And: What to do in case of muscle strain?
Muscle strain: Description
What’s a sprain? This refers to muscle strain, which is one of the most common sports injuries. But it can also happen in everyday life that you pull a muscle by an unnatural movement or an acute overload.
From pulled muscle to torn muscle
Muscle strain is the easiest form of overloading a muscle. Even greater stress usually causes individual muscle fibres to tear (muscle fibre tear). This can also happen if a muscle strain is ignored and training continues despite the injury.
The injury is even more pronounced in the case of a torn muscle bundle. A whole bundle of muscle fibres tears in the process. If in extreme cases the entire muscle is completely severed, this is called a muscle tear.
Muscle strain: symptoms
Muscle strain manifests itself in pulling, cramp-like pain, which usually develops slowly and gradually becomes stronger. The (sporting) activity can usually not be continued. The stretching and tensing of the torn muscle hurts. The affected muscle area feels painfully tense – a feeling that cannot be dispelled even by shaking, gentle massaging or loosening movements.
Muscle strain: causes and risk factors
Muscle strain is caused by overstretching the muscle. This can happen, for example, in case of unnatural movements or sudden excessive strain. Often such a strain affects the thigh and sometimes also the back muscles. Many people, especially athletes, also know the feeling of a pulled calf.
Various factors favour muscle strain or other muscle injury. These include, for example, a lack of warming up before sport, overloading of already tired muscles, insufficient training condition, lack of fitness or incorrect footwear.
No tissue damage
When a muscle was pulled, the muscle in question was overstretched, i.e. stretched beyond the limit of its elasticity. But this did not result in any tissue damage. If, on the other hand, the overstretching leads to the tearing of individual muscle fibres (often combined with bleeding into the tissue), there is a torn muscle fibre.
Muscle strain: examinations and diagnosis
If a muscle injury (such as pulled muscles) is suspected, the doctor will first ask about the symptoms and the injury mechanism. Possible questions here are:
- How did the injury happen?
- Where exactly do you have pain?
- Do you have any other complaints?
This is followed by the physical examination. The doctor palpates the injured body region. He checks the muscle hardness and whether the area is painful under pressure. It also tests whether stretching or straining the muscle causes pain and reduces muscle strength.
Muscle strain: treatment
A pulled muscle is treated conservatively. For the question: “Muscle strain – cool or warm?”, one should refer to the first aid measures according to the PECH scheme:
- Break: stop sporting activity and spare your muscles
- Ice: cool the injured area for at least 20 minutes (e.g. with an ice pack or a cold compress)
- Compression: apply elastic pressure bandage
- Elevation of an injured extremity
After the acute phase, as soon as the pain subsides due to the cooling and the increased muscle tension subsides, the torn muscle can be moved carefully again. Soft, light stretching exercises are recommended, whereby the stretch is held for six to eight minutes (i.e. no short seesawing movements).
Especially for professional athletes, muscle strain is often treated further, for example with lymph drainage, electrotherapy, tape bandages or massage.
Muscle strain: course of disease and prognosis
In the case of a pulled muscle, it is important to interrupt the sporting activity and spare the affected muscle. If you ignore the strain and continue training – as some runners do when their calves are strained, for example – the overloaded muscle fibres can tear. Such a torn muscle fibre has a much longer healing time than a simple strain.
Muscle strain: duration
A pulled muscle generally heals without any problems. Within about four to six days, the muscle usually recovers, so that you can then start light training again.