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Muscle Strain

The problem

  • Acute strains occur from undue pressure or overstretching of a muscle which results in a tear and damage to the muscle fibres and/or its attaching tendons
  • Damage can occur to a small area causing a partial tear to the muscle fibres or a large portion of the muscle causing a complete rupture of the muscle belly. They are graded accordingly from 1 to 3
  • Muscle strains can occur in all muscles of the body during normal activities of daily life, work tasks etc, but most commonly present as a sporting injury
  • Typical symptoms are painswelling, weakness and bruising or discolouration around the site of injury
  • Chronic muscle strains can occur as small tears which happen over time with a continuously overloaded muscle

Interesting facts

  • The grading of acute muscle strains can determine the prognosis of the injury and helps to plan for return to sport
  • A bad grade 2 tear may take 2-3 months to completely heal
  • Depending on how many fibres are affected, grade 3 tears may require surgery

What you can expect/look out for

  • Expect to see swelling and bruising/discolouration, this may continue to worsen in the days following the injury
  • Pain, swelling and bruising usually subsides gradually over 1-3 weeks and the torn muscle begins to heal through scar tissue
  • In most cases, with proper treatment most people completely recover from a muscle strain

More information

  • If surrounding muscles and/or joints are not working properly, one particular muscle may be being overloaded which then precursors that muscle to injure with a smaller required force.

Hints for self-management

  • Initial management is as for most soft-tissue injuries
  • Rest, may involve immobilising the area, a sling for the arm or crutches for the leg
  • Ice the area with an ice-pack or ice-blocks wrapped in a tea-towel, for 20 minutes, every 2-3 hours over the next 72 hours
  • Compress the area with a bandage
  • Elevate the area above the heart i.e. a lower limb injury should be rested lying down with the foot up on a small stool/pillows

Management options

  • After a period of relative rest it is necessary to exercise the injured and surrounding muscles to regain full function
  • Exercises to stretch, strengthen and correct muscle imbalances are necessary
  • Deep tissue massage may be appropriate after an initial period of rest to release the thickened scar tissue




At Sydney Sports and Orthopaedic Physiotherapy our highly qualified physiotherapists specialise in the assessment, treatment and prevention of neuromusculoskeletal injuries.



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This handout was prepared by Sydney Sports and Orthopaedic Physiotherapy and is intended as a general information service. Please note that the information provided is not intended as a substitute for advice from a registered physician or healthcare professional. If symptoms persist, please consult your doctor.

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