A pulled muscle or a muscle strain is a painful condition that occurs as the muscles are overstretched or torn. This condition generally occurs when the muscles are exposed to excessive physical activities, over usage, fatigue, or improper use of the particular muscle. It can occur in any muscle, but it has been seen that it is more common in muscles on lower back, shoulder, neck, and hamstrings. Pulled muscle causes pain and discomfort over the affected area. Pain intensity increases with activities and movements. The muscle pulls limits mobility and the ability to carry out daily activities. Muscle injury is classified as mild, moderate, and severe injury.1 Mild to moderate muscle pull can be treated at home with adequate rest, ice application, heat compresses, and over the counter anti-inflammatory medications. Muscle pull of severe kinds may require further radiological and ultrasound studies to conclude the extent of the injury. Such a condition should be evaluated for treatment by qualified and an experienced physician. Muscle injury is also classified as non-structural injury or structural injury.2 The mild or grade I muscle injury is non-structural muscle injury and moderate or grade II as well as severe or grade III muscle injury is considered structural muscle injury.
How Long Does a Pulled Muscle Take to Heal?
Muscle injury is the most common type of damage observed in athletes who are participating in running, cycling, and contact sports. The overall soft tissue injury is found in 30 to 50% of sport-related injuries.3 Muscle strain is diagnosed as a mild, moderate, or severe condition. Mild condition is also diagnosed as Grade I muscle strain. Moderate muscle stain is diagnosed as Grade II muscle strain, and severe muscle strain is diagnosed as Grade III muscle strain. Mild to a moderate muscle pull usually heal within a few weeks. Severe muscle pull takes several months to heal. Sometimes, symptoms such as pain and discomfort with mobility may linger for a lifetime. The recovery time of muscle pull depends on the grade of muscle strain as described below:
Healing Time for a Grade I Muscle Strain: This is a minor condition, where only a small percentage of muscles are affected. Most of the pain is caused by micro-tear. This type of pulled muscle normalizes within a few weeks. The condition usually heals with rest, local application of over the counter analgesic lotion or ointment and 3 to 4 days course of anti-inflammatory medications like Motrin and Naproxen. If pain continues after 7 days of treatment, then you must consult your physician.
Healing Time for Grade II Muscle Strain: Grade II muscle tear is caused by tendon injury or macro tear of muscles. The partial tear of the affected muscle causes severe pain when muscle contract. The symptoms may last for several weeks. Such injury is treated with rest as well as the application of braces to restrict joint movement that pulls the muscles. Muscle healing is faster if inflammation is treated with anti-inflammatory medications. Rarely muscle tear may need surgical treatment to approximate the torn muscle ends. This type of pulled muscle may require rehabilitation and physical therapy after the pain subsides.
Healing Time for Grade III Muscle Strain: This is characterized by a complete tear or rupture of the muscle. The third-degree muscle pull causes partial or complete separation of torn muscle ends. Such type of muscle pull is often treated with surgical treatment. Surgical treatment involves approximation and suturing of torn muscle ends.4 The pain often continues for several days. The muscle wound heals in 2 to 3 weeks following surgery. But, pain may continue because of surrounding muscle inflammation. Pain and discomfort are treated with anti-inflammatory medications, and muscle spasm that may result following surgery is treated with muscle relaxants. Muscle relaxants prescribed ar Skelaxin, Flexeril, and Baclofen. Once the wound is healed, and pain subsides, then physical therapy and rehabilitation treatment are essential to prevent prolonged suffering.
In most of the cases, how long will the muscle pull last depends on the location of the injured muscle, and it also depends on the severity of the injury. Under normal circumstances, symptoms of mild back muscle pull show improvement in about one to two weeks and show complete recovery in about 4 to 6 weeks. Grade II or moderate pulled muscle in upper and lower extremities as well as back heals in 8 to 10 weeks. Symptoms of severely pulled muscle (usually grade III strain) persist until the tear in the muscle is surgically repaired, and muscle inflammation subsides. In some cases, the symptoms may continue even after the repair is done. Occasionally after surgery muscle scar stays painful for prolonged periods that may last 6 months or longer. It is advised to seek medical help if the symptoms caused by grade I and II muscle injury do not improve within a few weeks with home treatment or if the pain or discomfort is unbearable. In case of any trauma followed by swelling over the area, the patient should consult a physician immediately to rule out any cause of bleeding and fracture. A pulled muscle is a commonly encountered condition, and it can happen to anyone even with simple activities such as walking.
Regeneration of injured skeletal muscle after the injury
Muscle Injuries: A Brief Guide to Classification and Management
Nicola Maffulli, Angelo Del Buono, Francesco Oliva, Alessio Giai Via, Antonio Frizziero, Michele Barazzuol, Paola Brancaccio, Marco Freschi, Stefano Galletti, Gianfranco Lisitano, Gianluca Melegati, Gianni Nanni, Ghito Pasta, Carlo Ramponi, Diego Rizzo, Vittorino Testa, and Alessandro Valent, Transl Med UniSa. 2015 May-Aug; 12: 14–18.
Muscle Injury – Physiopathology, Diagnosis, Treatment and Clinical Presentation
Surgical treatment for muscle injuries