Muscle Strain: 3 Grades of Tear (RICE, Doctor, or Rehab?)

Learn from this complete guide on muscle strain and know what to do when you tear or pull your muscles. Click to understand when to go for home treatment and when to visit a doctor!
Muscle Strain: Causes, Symptoms and grades of Muscle Tear or Pulled Muscle or Torn Muscle and RICE treatment
Illustration of Muscle Strain causing exercise

Muscle Strain: The Definitive Guide


Who likes muscle strain? No one! But still, it keeps visiting our body time-to-time in our day-to-day life.

The injury of muscle or tendon not only causes pain but also gives swelled, discolored, or popped surfaces.

The worst part is, muscle strain causes are hidden in our daily activities.

It can happen at any moment like while lifting an overweight item or playing. So if such a problem comes without invitation, what should one do?

Below, know about muscle strain guideline that incorporates muscle strain diagnosis method, test, cure, prevention techniques, rehabilitation process, healing or recovery time duration, and RICE treatment for muscle tear!

Muscle Strain Definition: What Is Muscle Strain/ Muscle Tears/ Torn Muscle/ Pulled Muscle

Muscle Strain Meaning

Muscle strain or pulled muscle is an internal injury of tendon and/or muscle, in which a contraction, tear, or over-stretch in muscle fibers causes pain, ribs, quads, bruise, discoloration, or stiffness at the localized area.

Reasons: Why Muscle Strains Happen?

Sometimes in our day-to-day life or while workout, we stretch our muscles beyond their limits. And sometimes, we unknowingly contract them too strongly. It causes tears in muscle fibers and makes that part unable to move or function properly. In both of the above cases, the level of severeness depends on the following two parameters:

  1. How much stretched or contracted the muscles are? That is — the degree.
  2. How many muscle fibers are torn or stretched or affected? That is — the severity.

These two decide that the case is mild, moderate, or serious. Depending on the functionality of the body part and level of damage, this muscle tear or muscle strain is classified into three grades (degrees).

Muscles Tear or Muscles Strain: Normal Body Mechanism Vs Problematic

Muscle Tear During Normal Body Activities

Muscle tears are a part of our body mechanism too. But this tear is very tiny, which can be called a normal breakdown.

Muscle Strain Risk Factors

The tiny tears occur while or during performing the:

  1. Rigorous exercise
  2. Heavy workout
  3. Strength-training schedule

The probability of getting a pulled muscle or torn muscle increases while rigorous workouts or sports activities. All the athletic sports involve some risk though, yet contact sports carry a higher risk of a muscle tear. Such sports include football, tennis, and basketball. The reason behind this is the requirement of taking a quick start, which most often tends to give a risk of strain.

However, one needs to remember that stepping off a curb can also give you such a strain. Even you can get it while lifting a weighty cartoon or heavy box too. Muscle strain from running is also common.

Problematic Muscle Strain: Muscle Strain Degrees (Grade 1, Grade 2, or Grade 3)

Muscle Strain cause: heavy weight lifting
Muscle Strain because of carrying heavyweight!

Muscle strain/tears or torn/pulled muscle are some terms that are a part of the life of a sportsman or a heavy exercise performer. Sports injury incorporates sprains, strains, and ligament injuries too. They indicate damage in muscle or tendon. The severeness of such a problem is evaluated in degrees. So, what do the parameters of these degrees say? Let's get aware of 3 degrees of strain and know about muscle strain causes, symptoms, risk factors, and grades in depth.

Muscle Strain Grade 1: First Degree Muscle Tear

As the degree suggests, it is not a severe issue. This type of strain indicates a minor tear in the muscle. When a few muscle fibers get affected with tear or stretch, this mild strain doesn't prove problematic. It gives pain or tenderness in injured muscles, but the pain remains at low strength.

Mild Muscle Strain Causes

  1. To perform rigorous physical activity or workout without warming up before
  2. To over-exert and fatigue
  3. Non-flexible body
  4. Poor condition

Mild Muscle Strain Symptoms

  1. Muscle Strain Pain: Tenderness and pain in the muscle after performing an activity that involves stretching or violent contraction of the muscles. The sufferer feels pain that increases whenever the affected part is moved.

  2. The pain slowdowns gradually if the rest is given rest to the portion of injured muscles.
  3. Muscle Strain Pop: The injured part doesn't show any swelling or bruise.
  4. The sufferer can move the part; or, the movement doesn't stop completely and by the time gets normal.

Muscle Strain Grade 2: Second Degree Muscle Strain

Such a strain indicates a muscle tear of moderate level. It causes pain to the sufferer, which is not unbearable though, yet enough to grab attention. Its annoyance limits the moving ability. In this case, as the number of injured muscle fibers increases, they give comparatively serious pain.

Acute or Moderate Muscle Strain Causes

  1. To slip or perform an activity with a loose foot
  2. To jump, throw something, or run fast carelessly
  3. To lift up some heavy stuff
  4. To lift or pull with an awkward body posture

Moderate Muscle Strain Symptoms:

  1. The body part gets mild swelling due to strain.
  2. Muscle spasm or cramp.
  3. At the time of muscle injury, the localized area of the affected muscle shows a pop.
  4. The strength loss is noticeable in this type of muscle strain.
  5. Sometimes, the affected body part shows light bruise or swelling or both too.

Muscle Strain Grade 3: Third Degree Muscle Strain

Now, this is a serious call. Third-degree strain indicates the most problematic muscle tear. This state comes when the muscle fiber ruptures and becomes the reason for intense pain. Such the muscle gets all-the-way-through tear because of stretch or strain. The initial pain completely restricts the moving ability. Sometimes, it causes a pop sensation.

What Happens Inside and Outside in Muscle Strain Problem?

Inside: Our muscles remain connected to the bones through the tendon, a strong cord. Too much muscle stretch or muscle contraction shears away the muscle from the tendon and thus from the bone. Or sometimes, it rips the muscle into two pieces and separates them. The muscle loses its normal outline because of a sharp break. Sometimes, this muscle tear damages the tiny blood vessels too, which becomes the cause of local bleeding and irritation at the nerve endings. Such internal injury of the tendon causing pain, ribs, quads appear out as bruises or swell.

Outside: A strain-affected body part may show swell, redness, bruise, and cause weakness. It may give pain in muscles while moving the part or using the nearby joint. One can also get open cuts from such injury.

Chronic Muscle Strain Causes

Factors or activities that can cause Severe Muscle Strain are:

  1. To perform a risky movement repetitively
  2. To play sports like tennis golf, rowing, baseball or such other game with excessively tired body or in too much flow
  3. To don a poor posture as a habit in day-to-day life
  4. To hold your neck or back wrongly in an awkward posture for a long period of time
  5. Severe Muscle Strain Symptoms:
  6. The place under the skin where rips happen, the torn parts of muscles come apart and give gap or dent.
  7. The outline of muscle changes from normal to defective.
  8. It evidently decreases the strength of that muscle. Sometimes, the sufferer loses the functionality of that muscle, completely.

Types of Muscle Strain: Classification of Muscle Strain as per Body Parts

Check below:

  1. Muscle Strain in Chest
  2. Muscle Strain in Back
  3. Muscle Strain in Neck
  4. Calf Muscle Strain
  5. Shoulder Muscle Strain
Muscle strain or pulled muscle cartoon illustration: Diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, RICE as per muscle tear grades
Muscle Strain OR Pulled Muscle OR Muscle Tear: Diagnosis, Treatment, Rehabilitation, RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)

In Case of Muscle Strain When to See a Doctor or Take Help of a Professional?

If the problem is related to strain, one must go to an expert if:

  1. You sense inside or hear the sound of a pop in the muscle when the injury incident happens.
  2. The case is of severe pain, discoloration, or swelling in the strain-affected part.
  3. You are feeling weakness in your muscle in comparison to the muscles of your opposite body part.
  4. You are at unease because of strain-restricted muscles.
  5. Home remedies for muscle strain or preliminary treatments don't ease with relief within 24 hours of injury.
  6. Your muscle strain shows problematic symptoms after 48 hours too. In case, the mild muscle strain's symptoms are not disappearing within two days of injury, it is a matter of some serious call.
  7. Your mild muscle strain pain worsens as the days pass.
  8. You are unable to perform your daily chores or activities due to severe back pain.
  9. Your treatment is not beneficial for strained back after two weeks too.
  10. Other than back pain, you are suffering from
    • Chill
    • Fevers
    • Weakness
    • Numb leg
    • Groin numbness
    • Rectum Numbness
    • Pain or burning signs while urinating
    • Lost the control or feeling unease with bladder functioning or bowel mechanism
    • Tingling in leg

Muscle Strain Diagnosis Method: Examinations

While diagnosis, the physician, doctor, or concerned person may ask you the following questions:

  1. Tell about the strain-triggering moment and activity. Was there any pop that time?
  2. Are you sensing the lack of muscle strength, in comparison to when you were not injured?
  3. Is the pain not allowing you to move strain-affected areas?
  4. In recent times, have you suffered from fever, leg numbness, weight loss, bladder or urinary issues?
  5. Do you remember any inefficiency or symptoms that may point towards any medical problem?

With noting all about the above, the concerned person examines spasm, tenderness, weakness, movement, and other states.

Other than quenching incident-related queries and performing physical exams, a doctor takes the medical history as well.

Muscle Strain Examination Outcomes

Here the main concern remains that the muscle tear is major (complete torn) or partial. If the examination process indicates that the muscle strain is at a mild or moderate level, further extra tests can be excluded.

If the process brings doubt, three tests are useful:

  1. X-ray
  2. Ultrasound
  3. MRI Scan ('M' = Magnetic, 'R'= Resonance, 'I'= Imaging)

In case of back pain, some additional muscle strain tests are performed to check if there is a problem involving:

  1. Backbone or vertebrae
  2. Spinal canal
  3. Vertebral Disks
  4. Spinal Cord

Usually, professionals do not recommend more than required lab tests unless there is a traumatic history or evidence of infection associated with the person's case. In a situation of higher degree cases of muscle strain, radiology comes as an option.

RICE: Muscle Strain Treatment

Muscle Strain treatment methods: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation
A girl taking RICE treatment for a muscle strain problem in her leg!

If you have muscle strain RICE treatment for muscle tear is the best for such a case. 'R', 'I', 'C', 'E' point towards Rest (R), Ice (I), Compression (C), and Elevation (E). A person can follow this method for a muscle strain cure as a short-term treatment. This is a savior method for muscle strain problems, which works as a quick harm controller.


A sufferer of the muscle tear or pulled muscle needs to give rest to not only the injured part but also to all sports activities.
No too much stretching!
No too much use of suffered part.
Complete rest to the strain-affected localized area! It is necessary for commencing the healing procedure.


What to choose if have muscle strain: heat or ice? The solid form of water holds power to reduce the swelling and that redness or discoloration of the affected strained area. Applicate the ice-pack for about 16 to 20 min to see the effect. 4 to 8 times of application is adequate within 24 hours. Also, do not forget to give a gap of at least one hour between two applications. Ice pack limits the flow of blood and controls swelling, giving relief from pain for a short time span.

What is Ice Pack?

Ice packs found in markets are small plastic sacks with water or liquid or some special type of refrigerant gel or solution. You can make it at home too.

Crush some ice and fill it in a plastic bag. Wrap this bag in a towel and it is ready to use.


Muscle strain compression is an amazing technique if the injured part belongs to your hand or leg, such as the ankle and wrist. The sufferer has to compress the injured or strained muscles with an elastic bandage, to get the relief soon. It reduces both swelling and pain of pulled muscles. The crepe bandage or wrapping elastic strip is also addressed as an ace bandage.


Elevating the body part is also an effective trick to get improved results. This is also a useful trick especially when the injured part is an ankle. The elevation is done to raise the level of the injured part above the heart, which reduces the flow of blood. One can use a pillow to lift up the leg or ankle for elevation.

Pain-relievers, anti-inflammatory medicines, and physiotherapy are also a part to aid the process in muscle strain cases.

Special Note

If you are using these R.I.C.E. rule's techniques on your own, ensure that your plan is working and minimizing pain or reducing swelling. Two days are enough to wait. After that, you should consult with a physician. Remember, the above four are useful for only acute injuries, and are a preliminary action, not enough to rely on chronic injuries.

Severe Grade 2 or Grade 3 Cases

Doctors refer such cases to an orthopedic specialist, who can advise you for:

  1. Immobilization for weeks, to keep your injured muscle area safer
  2. Surgery for repairing
  3. Rehabilitation program for too much severity

Muscle Strain Rehabilitation Process: 3 Phases with Guidelines

Acute Phase: Muscle Strain Rehabilitation at Inflammatory Phase

A person with muscle strain starts to get relief from the condition of inflammation after 48 to 72 hours, which lasts about 0 to 5 days. The period of time depends on the severity.

Muscle Strain Prevention Techniques: 5 Useful Guidelines to Follow in Acute Phase

The affected person must follow the below guidelines in such a stage:

  1. Apply R.I.C.E. treatment.
  2. Watch your range of movements or motion.
  3. Perform gently for the safe side.
  4. Do not give pointed stretches to the muscle-strain-affected area. Go for mild stretching. If it increases the muscle strain pain, avoid it.
  5. More than required physical movements or recreational activities may become the cause of further injury. Decrease the rate and intensity of such activities for muscle strain prevention.

Sub-acute Phase: Second Stage of Muscle Tear Rehabilitation

This phase remains with the muscle tear sufferer for about 5 to 21 days after injury. As in acute injury, the period of time for this phase also depends on how severe is the loss. In this phase, the regeneration and random lay-downing of muscle fibers happen within. Gradual resume of normal activities helps in realigning the newly generated muscle fibers in their efficient positions.

4 Important Guidelines to Follow in Sub-acute Phase:

Follow the below:

  1. This is the time to increase the intensity of stretches. Three (03) sets are adequate, where you can take the stretch holds of 30 seconds.
  2. The second effective realigning agent is a massage. It has the power to free facial adhesion. Massage is also helpful in realigning the muscle fibers that are new to your body.
  3. Resuming the resistance at a gradual pace is the step next. This process helps in realigning the muscle fibers and regaining their strength.
  4. In observation of a Physical Therapist, it is also important to address the strain-related factors such as inefficient patterns of muscle recruitment, pelvis mobility, and spine mobility.

Maturation Phase of Pulled Muscle Rehabilitation: Recovery

In most critical cases, this phase may take up to 6 months.

Guidelines: 5 Type of Training to Strengthen the Muscles

  1. Resistance Training: This is the phase in which the resistance training's pace is sent to the next level. The intensity is increased, slowly and steadily.
  2. Endurance Training: One more training is supplemented with resistance training, which is endurance training. This strengthens the muscle fibers.
  3. Aerobics: Here, the not-to-forget conditioning is Aerobic or cardiovascular.
  4. Proprioceptive and Balance Training: Needs to do it carefully to not get the strain back.
  5. Agility Training: Plyometrics is the main performance in this training. Practicing quick movements is the core feature of it. This training means the damage or loss is almost recovered and the rehabilitation program can be brought to halt.

Muscle Strain Recovery Time Duration

How long a muscle strain exists or the sprain lasts, or muscle strain takes how long to heal, depends on the location and strain severity. Major problem or surgery means complicated and the longer procedure of recovery. The muscle strain duration depends on the severity of a case.

Let's know the expected duration of suffering from muscle strain, as per condition!

Mild Strain at Back (Grade 1)

Duration of improvement in muscle strain: 1-2 weeks

Duration of total relief from muscle strain: 4-6 weeks

Mild or Moderate Strain in Legs (Grade 1 or 2)

Duration of Healing of pulled muscle: About 8 to 10 weeks (or more sometimes)

Severe Strain (Grade 3)

Duration of persistence: Post-surgical action, depends on repairing the pace of torn muscle.

Thus prognosis or muscle strain healing time exceeds as per grade 1, grade 2, and grade 3 muscle strain. Grade 1 lasts in a few weeks, the problem of grade 2 takes 2 or 3 months, and grade 3 takes several months to rehabilitate after surgery to repair.

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