The Fit Stop Blog

Expert advice to help you feel better.

What is a pulled muscle and what can I do for it?

What is a pulled muscle and what can I do for it?

Muscle strains – what they are and what you can do to help heal them.

We’ve all been there before (some of us more than others!) – it’s that one lift that was too heavy, the one sprint that was too fast, and even that one motion that tweaked things just right. Yep – today we’re talking pulled muscles here on The Fit Stop Blog! As a physical therapist this is a problem that I encounter in my patients on a daily basis. Knowing what they are and knowing the steps you need to take after it happens is vital to improving healing time and maximizing your potential for recovery. Today is all about muscle pulls – what they are, how they happen, and information you need to know to help you make a speedy and complete recovery.

What is a pulled muscle?
 Think of your muscles like a piece of fabric that you are holding in front of you between your two hands. If I were to pull on that fabric, it would stretch up to a certain point. If I then continued to pull some of thoseshutterstock_91078373fibers would start to break. Eventually, given enough force, the entire piece of fabric would rip right in half. Our muscles are very similar. They can tolerate stretching up to a certain point before structural damage starts to occur. Muscle strains, or “tears”, happen when a muscle is pulled or stretched beyond its physiological range or capability. The muscle fibers then literally “tear” apart similar to the cloth analogy. This tearing is usually a result of too much stretch (a passive pulling of the muscle) or too much strain/trying to lift too heavy, too much, etc (an active pulling of the muscle).

How can you determine if what you’re feeling is a pulled muscle? If you’ve ever experienced soreness after a workout activity, you have, in fact, experienced a muscle strain. This soreness usually goes away after 2-3 days. It’s also more of a diffuse pain – you can’t really isolate exactly where it’s coming from. With a muscle strain, however, you’re going to experience symptoms a lot longer than three days, pain will be more intense, and it will be much more localized in one specific area of the muscle. Oftentimes deep palpation (massage) to this area will also elicit much tenderness and there may be a feeling of a “knot” in the muscle.

What to do after you pull a muscle: After an acute muscle pull, the best principles to follow are the acronym R.I.C.E (I actually wrote a whole article on the steps to take after an acute injury – you can check it out here). REST – take it easy for 3-5 days; don’t exert the muscle for fear of re-injury. ICE – keeping it cold will decrease inflammation and pain. COMPRESSION – neoprene sleeves, ace wraps, compression garments, etc will offer support and protection during this injury phase. ELEVATION – keeps swelling to a minimum. Gentle stretching to the area will also help and regular dosing of anti-inflammatories will help take the edge off. After 3-7 days (depending on your tolerance and the extent of the injury) introducing GENTLE exercises (initially bodyweight only) will help the muscle to recover faster.



ice hamstringWhat to expect if you did pull a muscle: Appropriate time frames for a simple muscle strain (nothing too complex) are as follows:
1-2 days: RICE with gentle stretching
3-7 days: introduce light active motion per your pain threshold. If it hurts, alter it so it doesn’t or give it up completely.
7-14 days: Progressively more exercise (sets, reps, weight) combined with some massage/foam rolling will help.
14 days+: Continue activity progression per your tolerance.


When should you see a doc? The biggest issue I see with muscle strains as a physical therapist is people wait way too long before they come in to get help.Rehab for a muscle strain becomes much more difficult when you wait 4+ weeks as opposed to coming in sooner. By that time your body has already done it’s best to heal that area, however often times it didn’t do an adequate job. My recommendation is that if you are experiencing symptoms of an acute muscle strain injury don’t let them go for longer than two weeks without consulting a medical provider (my recommendation would be to contact a physical therapist, but then again I’m a little bit biased!).

Unfortunately muscle strains are painful and limit a lot of our activities. Fortunately there’s a lot that physical therapy can to to help! If you suspect you may have a muscle strain we would love to see you in one of our clinics. Click the link below to speak with a therapist and get on out schedule so you can get back to those things you really enjoy doing:


Heber City        Salt Lake        Farmington        Murray

Jared Beckstrand, PT, DPT
Fit Stop Physical Therapy – Farmington
172 N East Promontory Ste 200
Farmington, UT 84025
(801) 558-8612