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Friday, April 16, 2021

How Long Does It Take for a Muscle Strain to Heal?

What is a muscle strain?

The amount of time it takes to heal from a muscle strain depends on severity. Grade I strains heal within a few weeks. Grade II strains can take up to 3 months or longer. Grade III strains may require surgery and months of rehabilitation.

A strain, or pulled muscle, is an injury to your muscle or tendon. It occurs when these fibers are overstretched or torn. A muscle strain can occur because of an accident, misusing a muscle, or simply because a muscle is overworked.

Signs and symptoms of muscle strain

After straining a muscle, you may experience muscle spasms, weakness, and pain. Sometimes, the area surrounding the muscle will cramp and swell, and you’ll struggle to move a muscle or won’t be able to use it at all. Severe strains, like a partial or complete tear, are very painful.

Types of muscle strain

Doctors assess the severity of a strain based on the strength or range of motion you have after the injury. There are three grades of muscle strain:

  • Grade I: A mild strain that damages less than 5% of individual muscle fibers
  • Grade II: Significant loss of motion and strength. It involves more muscle fibers, but the muscle hasn’t ruptured. This type of strain takes around two months to heal
  • Grade III: The muscle or tendon ruptures, causing swelling and severe pain. This level of injury may require surgery to reattach the damaged muscle or tendon
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Causes of muscle strain

Muscles insert into bones and provide the force that helps you move. If you misuse a muscle or overload it, the resulting force is so great that it causes the tissue to tear. Tears happen in three specific places:

  • In the myotendinous junction, which connects muscles and tendons
  • At the tendon, where it attaches to the bone
  • Inside the muscle

Injuries happen when you overload a muscle, which means it’s contracting and elongating at the same time. Certain factors that predispose you to a muscle strain injury include:

  • Previous injuries
  • Weak muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Older age

Strains and injuries often occur when you’re starting a new exercise program or physical activity.

When to see the doctor for muscle strain

Not all strains require a visit to your doctor. Moderate or severe injuries need prompt attention. Call your doctor if:

  • You feel or hear your muscles pop
  • You are in pain and your muscle is swollen or discolored
  • You can’t move the injured muscle
  • You suffered an injury that isn’t improving after 48 hours
  • You hurt your back previously and your symptoms are the same or getting worse
  • You have severe back pain

Back pain, especially if it gets worse, is a cause for concern. Pay attention and call your doctor if you notice the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • A burning sensation when you urinate
  • Sudden tingling or weakness in one leg
  • Numbness in your rectum or groin
  • Problems controlling your bladder or bowels

Back pain can indicate other health issues, including a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a possible injury to your vertebrae, vertebral disks, or spinal cord.

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Diagnosis for muscle strain

Most of the time, a doctor can diagnose a muscle strain with a physical exam. They will ask you to describe your symptoms and past medical history, then check for:

  • Muscle tenderness
  • Spasms
  • Weakness
  • Range of motion and signs of decreased movement

If the exam doesn’t provide an accurate diagnosis, your doctor may order additional testing, including X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

Treatments for muscle strain

The amount of time it takes to heal from a muscle strain depends on your injury’s severity. Grade I strains heal within a few weeks. Grade II tears can take up to 3 months or longer. If you’ve had surgery from a Grade III strain, gaining normal muscle function will require months of rehabilitation.

If you suspect a muscle strain but didn’t hear a “pop” that would require a visit to a healthcare provider, the RICE rule can help. Doctors suggest:

  • Rest to avoid further injury
  • Ice to reduce swelling
  • Compression with an elastic bandage for support
  • Elevation to allow fluid to drain away

Over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can relieve muscle pain and swelling. Your doctor may suggest you see an orthopedic specialist for further treatment if you have a severe strain. Trying to return to normal daily activity too soon may lead to another injury.


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Medically Reviewed on 12/22/2020


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Sprains, Strains and Other Soft Tissue Injuries.”

Harvard Medical School: “Muscle Strain.”

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HSS: “Muscle Strain: “Causes, Symptoms, Treatment.”

Mount Sinai: “Strains.”

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “Sprain vs. Strain.”

The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Muscle strain injury: diagnosis and treatment.”

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