When you stretch, you take your muscle to the point where you can feel a slight pull and hold this position for a few seconds without pain or discomfort. However, if you stretch your muscles beyond their normal range of motion, you may experience a pulled muscle -- or muscle strain. As a result, you should discontinue exercise and begin treatment of your pulled muscle from overstretching.
Muscle strains often are the result of overstretching your muscles or failure to stretch before beginning exercise. Strained -- or pulled -- muscles are a stretching or tearing of your muscles or tendons -- the tissues that connect your muscles to your bones. Strains most commonly occur in your lower back and in your hamstrings -- the three muscles in the back of your thigh. However, pulled muscles can occur virtually anywhere in your body that muscles and tendons are located.
Symptoms of a pulled muscle vary based on location and severity of your injury. Symptoms that are consistent across the board include pain, swelling, muscle spasms and the limited ability to move your affected muscle -- including bearing weight if the affected muscle is in your lower extremities.
Mild muscle pulls can be treated at home using the RICE method. This includes resting the affected body part. You should discontinue exercise and rest until symptoms subside. Icing the affected muscle can help reduce pain and swelling. Ice your affected muscle for 15 minutes at a time no more than once per hour. Another component of the RICE method is compression. Apply an elastic bandage to the affected muscle in order to reduce swelling. In addition, you should elevate the affected limb above heart level for as much as possible for the first 48 hours.
Visiting a Doctor
If pain persists for more than three days or if you are unable to move the affected muscle, walk, experience numbness or notice red streaks around your injury, see your doctor. Your doctor is likely to complete a physical examination as well as order an x-ray to rule out damage to your bones. An MRI may help determine the severity of your injury. Upon diagnoses, your doctor may brace or splint your affected muscle, or prescribe physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medications. You may face surgery for a torn or complete rupture of a tendon, muscle or ligament.
Practice proper stretching to avoid injury. Seek the advice of a fitness professional who can instruct you on how to properly complete stretches. Never complete any stretch to the point where you experience pain. A stretch should only create a light pull in the muscle you are stretching. Once you reach this light pull, do not stretch any further.
- NASM: Essentials of Personal Fitness Training; 2008
- MayoClinic.com; Sprains and Strains; Mayo Clinic Staff
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Hamstring Muscle Injuries