A pulled muscle, also known as a muscle tear or muscle strain, is one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries that cause bodily pain, often out of the blue. A muscle typically tears when forced to take on a load that is more than it can handle. That said, how can you be sure if what is causing you pain is because of a pulled muscle or something else?
Symptoms of a pulled muscle
Muscle tears can generally be categorised as either low-grade or high-grade. For the former, you may not remember which incident caused it. On the other hand, the latter is easy to associate with the specific acute incident that caused the pain. The pain from a muscle tear can manifest in various ways, such as:
- Tenderness or pain when applying pressure to the injured area
- When actively contracting or passively stretching the affected muscle (such as pain when bending the knee towards the buttocks due to a hamstring tear)
- When passively stretching the muscle (using the hamstring tear example again, passive stretching, in this case, would be if someone straightens out your knee or bends it towards your chest)
Besides pain, other muscle tear symptoms include reduced range of motion and muscle weakness. Higher-grade muscle tears may also cause swelling, redness, and bruising.
Muscle tear grades
There are three different grade classifications for muscle tears, namely:
Low-grade tears come with localised tenderness and pain, minimal pain when touched, aggravated by active movement, and possible slight bruising. Also, these injuries bring less than 5% loss in function of the affected muscle.
Grade 2 tears bring tenderness and pain that is no longer localised, significant pain when touched, visible bruising, and substantial loss in range of motion and strength (around less than 50%) of the affected muscle.
A high-grade tear means a complete tearing of the muscle with poorly localised and severe pain, often resulting in disability or significant loss in range of motion and strength.
A pain management specialist will base your rehabilitation plan according to the grade or extent of your muscle tear injury.
Recovery time for pulled muscles
There is no simple answer to how long before your muscle tear heals and you can return to activity since there are numerous factors that determine recovery time, the most important of which include:
- The injured muscle and the extent of the injury
- The affected individual (physical condition, body mass, gender, age, sport and competitive level, injury history, etc.)
- Mechanism of the injury
- Previous injuries on the same muscle
- Injury location on the muscle (e.g. if a tendon is involved, the rehab process will be longer)
After considering all these variables, recovering from a pulled muscle can take as short as one week for very mild cases to 12 weeks or more for grade 3 tears. However, it is important to note that having a torn muscle does not necessarily mean you need to rest. By getting a thorough assessment, you can start rehabilitation immediately alongside an integrated return to activity.
Tearing a muscle leads to considerable pain depending on its severity and makes the affected muscle more likely to get injured again in the future. Thus, if you suspect you have a pulled muscle, have a physiotherapist look at your injury immediately, even if it is just a minor case. A tailored rehabilitation program is key to recovering quickly, mitigating the pain as much as possible, and reducing the chance of injuring the same muscle again.
If you are experiencing pain from an injury or unknown cause, our skilled specialists at Pain SG are always ready to help you manage your pain with effective pain relief solutions. As a leading provider of pain management in Singapore, our treatment options cover a wide range of conditions affecting the body – from knee or back pain to ankle pain management, to help you safely return to physical activity and get you back on your feet as soon as possible.
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