During the physical exam, your doctor will check for swelling and points of tenderness. The location and intensity of your pain can help determine the extent and nature of the damage.
In more severe injuries, where the muscle or tendon has been completely ruptured, your doctor may be able to see or feel a defect in the area of injury. Ultrasound often can help distinguish among several different types of soft tissue injuries.
For immediate self-care of a muscle strain, try the R.I.C.E. approach — rest, ice, compression, elevation:
- Rest. Avoid activities that cause pain, swelling or discomfort. But don't avoid all physical activity.
- Ice. Even if you're seeking medical help, ice the area immediately. Use an ice pack or slush bath of ice and water for 15 to 20 minutes each time and repeat every two to three hours while you're awake for the first few days after the injury.
- Compression. To help stop swelling, compress the area with an elastic bandage until the swelling stops. Don't wrap it too tightly or you may hinder circulation. Begin wrapping at the end farthest from your heart. Loosen the wrap if the pain increases, the area becomes numb or swelling is occurring below the wrapped area.
- Elevation. Elevate the injured area above the level of your heart, especially at night, which allows gravity to help reduce swelling.
Some doctors recommend avoiding over-the-counter pain medications that can increase your risk of bleeding — such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) — during the first 48 hours after a muscle strain. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) can be helpful for pain relief during this time period.
A physical therapist can help you to maximize stability and strength of the injured joint or limb. Your doctor may suggest that you immobilize the area with a brace or splint. For some injuries, such as a torn tendon, surgery may be considered.
Preparing for your appointment
While you may initially consult your family physician, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in sports medicine or orthopedic surgery.
What you can do
You may want to write a list that includes:
- Detailed descriptions of your symptoms
- Information about medical problems you've had
- Information about the medical problems of your parents or siblings
- All the medications and dietary supplements you take
- Questions you want to ask the doctor
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor may ask some of the following questions:
- How exactly were you moving when the injury occurred?
- Did you hear or feel a pop or snap?
- When did it happen?
- What types of home treatments have you tried?
- Have you ever injured this part of your body before?
- If so, how did that injury occur?
Sept. 01, 2020
- Sprains and strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/sprains-and-strains/advanced. Accessed April 27, 2018.
- Walls RM, et al., eds. General principles of orthopedic injuries. In: Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 27, 2018.
- Safran MR, et al. Strain. In: Instructions for Sports Medicine Patients. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2012. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 27, 2018.
- Sprains, strains and other soft-tissue injuries. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sprains-strains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries. Accessed April 27, 2018.