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A strain refers to the stretching or tearing of a muscle as a result of excessive pulling during physical activity.

What are the signs and symptoms of the injury? 
Symptoms of a strain include:
  • pain
  • swelling
  • muscle spasm
  • change in colour and bruising
  • decreased range of motion and difficulty moving the injured area

What are the causes and risks of the injury? 
Most strains are caused by excessive physical activity. The most common situations involving strains include sports and recreational activities. Strains can also result from work-related and lifting injuries or relatively minor incidents, such as over-stretching a muscle.

What can be done to prevent the injury? 
Performing light stretches and warm-up exercises before any sports or other intense physical activity can help prevent strains.

How is the injury recognised? 
Diagnosis is usually made by a physical examination from a doctor. Anyone who has muscular pain after excessive physical activity can assume that they have some muscle strain and should treat it appropriately.

What are the treatments for the injury? 
  • Cold compresses should be applied to the area immediately, and then every 3 to 4 hours over a 24-hour period. Compresses are applied for 15 minutes at a time. This will help to reduce the swelling and decrease the amount of pain. It is important to avoid placing ice directly on the skin, because this may cause frostbite to the area. Ice should be put inside a plastic bag, wrapped in a towel, and then placed on the skin.
  • Muscles should be rested until the pain subsides.
  • Elevating the injured area above the level of the heart decreases the amount of swelling, and decreases the amount of pain in the area.
  • Pain killers or anti-inflammatory drugs may recommended by a doctor.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
There are few side effects related to the treatment of muscle strains. It is important to remember that ice should not be placed directly on the skin. This can cause frostbite to the area. Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin can irritate the lining of the stomach and possibly cause bleeding.

What happens after treatment for the injury? 
If a certain activity causes repeated muscle strains, a person should strengthen the muscles in a way that does not cause continual damage. A doctor can recommend an exercise program or physiotherapy.

Author: James Broomfield, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 21/10/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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