What is a Pulled Muscle?

Ouch! Pulled My Muscle

There have been many times I have seen patients come in with back pain and the first thing they’d tell me is they have pulled a muscle in their back. Is back pain always just a simple case of a muscle strain? Did a simple action like getting out of bed or bending over really have the ability to cause tears in the muscle fibres?

Have you ever wondered if you have a muscle strain injury? Maybe you thought about “what are pulled muscle symptoms?” Well today I want to talk a little bit more about what a strained muscle actually is and how you can tell the difference between pulling a muscle and other soft tissue injuries. Read on to learn a bit more about the medical condition of a muscle strain.

What is a Muscle Strain

Definition of a muscle strain:

A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon in which the muscle fibres tear as a result of over-stretching.

Remember a Strain is NOT a Sprain. You strain a muscle but you sprain a ligament.

A muscle strain is also commonly known as a pulled muscle.

What Causes a Muscle Strain?

A muscular strain occurs when muscle fibres tear due to over-stretching. It is possible to cause a pulled muscle whilst doing normal daily tasks and is not restricted to only during sports & athletics. However, playing a sport would place you at greater risk for developing a muscle strain, because of the increased muscular activity, level of resistance and speed of contractions.

You see it happen all the time when someone is in the gym doing weight training to get bigger muscles. Being tired and overtraining is another common issue for athletes like body builders.

There are times you may think you have a pulled muscle in the lower back or a pulled muscle in your neck but it could also be a trapped nerve. You can read here different symptoms of a pinched nerve in the neck or pinched nerve in the lower back.

Now you know that according to the definition above that to pull a muscle means you have actually created an event where tears in the muscle fibres have occurred.

A simple action of getting up from the chair causing instant lower back pain will not likely be a strained muscle. This is because in the true sense of the definition no muscle fibres were torn in getting up from the chair. The lower back pain is more likely a muscle spasm. A muscle spasm is like a cramp, which is a strong involuntary contraction of a muscle. No muscle fibres tear with a cramp.


Here are some of the symptoms you may feel if you feel you have pulled a muscle:

  • Localized area pain and discomfort,
  • Stiffness in the muscle tissue,
  • Discolouration or bruising in and around the involved muscle,
  • Pain when using the muscle.

Treatment for Muscle Pain

When treating a pulled muscle pain just try remember the mnemonic R.I.C.E:

R – Rest

I – Ice

C – Compress

E – Elevate

R.I.C.E is the first line treatment to be done and it is to be carried on to help heal a strained muscle.

Rest means taking the pressure of the muscle sometimes this requires bed-rest or using aids like crutches.

Ice would be using a cold compress, soft ice bag or bag of frozen peas on the affected muscle to reduce swelling and act as an anti-inflammatory.

Compress is using a soft bandage to act as compression to reduce the size of the swelling.

Elevate means if you can raise the muscle above heart level to use gravity to drain excess inflammatory fluid away from the strain.

There are different levels of muscle damage you can end up doing. So a simple strain will heal fine using R.I.C.E but other more serious muscle strains will require the opinion of a healthcare professional to advise. You can also injury the ligaments or the bone not just the muscle, so if your worried go get an opinion.

Types of Muscle Strains

There are different degrees that you can tear a muscle which can classified as:

  1. First Degree Muscle Strain – involves less than 5 percent of the muscle and is what you may feel as a mild strain.
  2. Second Degree Muscle Strain – involves the muscle fibres being torn to nearly a complete tear.
  3. Third Degree Muscle Strain – is the complete rupture and tearing of a muscle all the way.

Most people would have experienced the first degree strain. If you see the bruising and discolouration in the muscle you are more likely to have a second or third degree tear.

Example of a Torn Muscle

In the following video you can see a gymnast on the high bars suffer an instant torn pec muscle. This would most likely be a third degree tear or at least a second degree tear. Ouch!

In this example you can see in slow motion a left bicep tendon tear with weight lifting. Lovely 🙂

You can also see an example of a torn hamstring muscle.

Image CreditSome rights reserved by pasukaru76