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How NOT to Treat Your Pulled Muscles at Home

How NOT to Treat Your Pulled Muscles at Home

You’ve just bent over to pick up groceries, and you’re hit with this stabbing pain. You freeze, because you can’t really stand up, or go down. This shooting pain, be it in your back, legs, or neck, is most likely a pulled muscle, better known as a muscle strain. Most people don’t rush to the ER for a muscle strain, instead opting to treat it at home. In this article, we’ll discuss what you can do and what you definitely should NOT do for a pulled muscle.

What is Muscle Strain?

Muscles are made up of small fibers banded together. Through normal movement and exercise, these fibers pull, stretch, and contract to get the body moving. It is normal for small tears to occur when engaging in more intense activity, and these small tears can heal and over time form even stronger muscles. When the muscles are overworked and stretched too far or contracted too forcefully, these tears can actually damage the muscle and result in a pulled muscle or strain. Muscle strains are actually divided into degrees of severity:

  • Grade I

    • Minimal tearing of muscle fiber with pain and tenderness. Normal muscle strength, can continue in activity.
  • Grade II

    • Moderate tearing of muscle fibers with more pain, tenderness, swelling, perhaps bruising present as well. Loss of some muscle strength, inability to continue in activity.
  • Grade III

    • Intense tearing of the muscle, sometimes with reported “popping” sound from the muscle. Intense pain or spasms and sometimes a noticeable dent where muscle has separated. Swelling and discoloration most likely present with loss of muscle function. Unable to bear weight.

What TO Do

We strongly recommend following up with your doctor, especially if your symptoms are anywhere as intense as a Grade II or III strain. However for a mild strain, what are some things you can do at home? Here is a short list:

  • I.C.E.

    • R is for Rest

      • Whatever you were doing, go ahead and stop. Let someone else bring the rest of the groceries in the house. Depending on the severity of the strain, mostly likely you’ll need to cease and desist in any activity that could worsen the strain.
    • I is for Ice

      • When a strain occurs, the damage activates a response in your body to heal the area, and this causes inflammation. Ice can help to decrease some of the associated swelling and discomfort.
    • C is for Compression

      • If the strain is on an area that you can wrap with an ACE bandage, this will help with swelling and discomfort, and provide extra support to the damaged muscle.
    • E is for Elevation

      • Elevation assists in promoting circulation and decreasing swelling.
    • Do look for bruising

      • This is a sign that the strain is more than just mild. Bruising is an indication that the muscle tear or strain caused bleeding, and would require you to follow up with a doctor ASAP.

What NOT to Do

It’s true, most of us are guilty of pushing our bodies way too hard. That usually how the strain happened in the first place. Once you’ve pulled the muscle and effectively damaged it, your actions from there can either improve and speed up your recovery, or they could hinder it. Here is a short list of what NOT to do:

  • Don’t push through the pain hoping it will go away.

    • Pain is your body’s way of signaling you to stop and evaluate yourself. Don’t ignore the pain, respond appropriately by stopping the activity that caused it and resting.
  • Don’t take pain meds to mask the pain.

    • Anti-inflammatories are a good way to ease pain, but don’t take them just to mask the pain. A recovery period should be respected, and pain medications shouldn’t be a replacement or solution for time spent healing.
  • Don’t use a foam roller or stretch the strained muscle.

    • Foam rollers are great, and any physical therapist will tout the benefits of stretching; NOT, however, immediately after a muscle strain. Remember, a strain reflects overstretching or contracting. Rolling on a foam roller or stretching will only exacerbate the injury, not to mention the pain. Wait at least a few days until attempting to foam roll or stretch.
  • Don’t wait to see a doctor or physical therapist.

    • If your pain is not getting better in a few days or a week, and you are experiencing difficulty performing daily tasks, don’t wait to follow up with your doctor.


With any strained or pulled muscle, whether it occured exercising, on the field, or in your garden, we encourage you to take it seriously. You only have one body, take good care of it! At Blue Hills Sports and Spine Rehabilitation we have skilled physical therapists who can help find out why you pulled a muscle in the first place. We can determine if you have an imbalance in your muscles, and we can help you recover and prevent it from happening again.

Step 1: Give us a call.

Step 2: We help you heal.