Pulled Muscles: How To Avoid Them

12/10/2021 | 6 min. read

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Muscles are essential to body movement and mobility. But like any part of the body, they are susceptible to damage or strain that can impair their function.

A pulled muscle is one of the most common injuries that can afflict any of our muscles. While it can be discomforting, they do not often result in serious impairment.

In most cases, pulled muscles are self-treatable. To avoid them, you must take consistent care of your muscles.

What Is a Pulled Muscle?

Unlike bones are other supportive structures, muscles are flexible. They are made of cells and tissue that can contract and extend to cause movement. They are connected to bones with tendons, which are connective tissue made of collagen.

Pulled muscles, otherwise referred to as strained muscles, occur when a muscle or tendon is overstretched. Sometimes, overstretching muscles or tendons can also cause tears in the tissue and muscle fibers.

Depending on the severity of the injury, pulled muscles usually heal on their own within a few days or weeks.

Symptoms

In most cases, pulled muscles can be self-identified. Symptoms of a pulled muscle include:

  • Discomfort and Weakness
  • Tenderness or soreness
  • Swelling or Bruising
  • Redness
  • Muscle spasms

While minor symptoms are normal and expected, further medical attention may be required if symptoms worsen or cause extreme discomfort, as these symptoms can indicate severe strains.

What Causes Pulled Muscles?

Pulled muscles typically occur during movement. Certain types of movements and activities can put stress on muscles and tendons which can lead to injury.

Some of these causes include:

Repetition 

Several repeats of exercises or movements that engage the same muscles during a short period of time can overuse these muscles. Overuse does not allow muscles to rest or contract into their “normal” state, which leads to overstretching, muscle fatigue, mild strain, and tears.

Explosive Action 

Explosive action is when the body exerts a large amount of energy during a short period. Strenuous activities that utilize explosive action include sprinting and jumping.

Muscles and tendons, like those in the thigh, quadriceps muscles, hips, hamstring, and calf muscles, may become overwhelmed and unable to keep up with the rest of the body, which can cause injury and sprain.

Sudden Movements 

Pulled muscles can occur as a result of brief but sudden movements. If strong enough, such movements can cause injury. An example of this includes a sudden twist of the head or lifting a heavy box.

Improper Form

When engaging in exercise or any physical movement, it is important to utilize proper form that keeps target muscles engaged while the rest are relaxed.

Treating Pulled Muscles

In most cases, pulled muscles can be treated at home. Here are some tips:

Rest

Make sure to rest your injured muscle so that it is not susceptible to any more damage. While you should still move your body and stay active, avoid putting stress on the afflicted area.

Use Ice 

An ice pack can help relieve discomfort and reduce swelling. You should ice the area right after it is injured and regularly until it heals.

Elevate

Elevating the injured area, especially at night, can help reduce swelling during healing. Elevation can also provide a more comfortable position for rest.

Alleviate discomfort

Over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen can help alleviate discomfort in the area until it heals. Before taking any over-the-counter medication, it is best to consult with a doctor.

An elastic bandage may also work to provide compression that eases discomfort. In addition to medication, rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) can help soothe any discomfort from a pulled muscle.

Preventing Pulled Muscles

Although usually not dangerous, pulled muscles can cause discomfort that may temporarily impact performance and mobility.

While pulled muscles are common and afflict many people, taking care of your muscles can help you avoid injury or strain.

Nourish Your Muscles

The first step in keeping your muscles healthy is by maintaining a healthy diet. Generally, a healthy body cannot function without the key nutrients it needs. But to focus on your muscles, make sure you are getting enough of these specific nutrients:

Water

Water accounts for 70 to 75 percent of our muscle composition. Water is essential to all of our bodily functions. It transports nutrients to muscles and helps keep them flexible.

Adults should drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Eating fruits with high water contents, such as watermelon and cucumber, can also help keep you hydrated.

Protein

Our muscle tissue is made out of protein, so incorporating protein into our diet helps repair and strengthen them.

Sources of healthy protein include lean meats, fish, chicken, and dairy.

Magnesium and Potassium

Two of the most important minerals the body needs, magnesium, and protein, help avoid muscle cramps and stiffness. They are essential to muscle movement and relaxation.

You can get magnesium from lean meat, fish, dairy, and legumes. To incorporate potassium into your diet, load up on greens, chicken, and bananas.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium and vitamin D are essential to maintaining and building muscle strength and keeping ligaments and tendons healthy.

Dairy and leafy greens such as spinach are great sources of calcium. Vitamin D can be found in dairy, fish, and eggs.

Iron and Vitamin B12

Both these vitamins have essential roles in forming red blood cells, which deliver oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body. They also help cells use energy more efficiently, which is very important for muscle function.

Meat, fish, and leafy greens are great sources of iron and vitamin B12.

Activity

Muscles require a balance between different types of movement and rest to stay healthy and strong.

Strength Exercises

To grow your muscles and make them stronger, you must regularly engage in strength exercises. You should aim to exercise for 30 minutes five days a week.

Bodyweight and resistance exercises are both types of exercise that can help build muscle strength. Weight-bearing exercises can help you stay healthy while minimizing muscle stress. To avoid injury, be mindful when exercising.

Stretching

To keep your muscles flexible, you must stretch them regularly, especially before exercising or physical activity.

Stretching helps improve blood circulation and helps muscles warm-up and prepare for movement. Stretching can also combat the effects of poor posture, which can lead to tension and a limited range of motion.

Before returning to any exercise full time, make sure you get proper rest to ensure a full range of motion when you return.

Takeaway

While pulled muscles do not typically cause serious injury, they can be avoided through healthy practices. Muscles cannot function without a certain set of nutrients, so a healthy diet is a key to healthy muscles. To keep them strong, make sure to engage in light exercise and stretches regularly.

While pulled muscles can be treated at home in most cases, it is best to seek professional medical assistance if an injury results in unmanageable symptoms.

Sources:

10.1 Overview of Muscle Tissues – Anatomy & Physiology | Oregon State University Muscle strains - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic Muscle Strain: What You Need to 

Muscle Strain: What You Need to Know About Pulled Muscles | HSS

Healthy Directions Staff Editor