A pulled muscle, also known as a muscle strain, is a soft-tissue injury resulting from tears in your muscle fibers1.

Unlike the microscopic muscle fiber tears2 you sustain during a workout, a strained muscle generally involves a larger amount tears to these muscle fibers.

Pulled muscle pain can range from mild discomfort to severe pain that worsens with certain positions and movements.3 Mild cases can generally be treated with at-home treatments, while severe cases may require surgery.

Read on to learn more about what is a muscle strain is, what happens when you pull a muscle, and how to treat a pulled muscle at home.

What Causes Muscle Strains?

Overusing or overexerting your muscles4, not warming up correctly, or using your muscles incorrectly (making an unusual movement), can all result in pulled muscles.

Forward head posture5 and slouching for prolonged periods places considerable stress on the neck muscles and the lower back muscles. Over time, the lower back muscles become overused and may develop a muscle strain injury.

Another common cause of muscle strain is improper use of your muscles, such as when lifting something heavy using an incorrect movement. Not stretching, or warming up correctly before exercise, can also lead to muscle strain.

Exerting your muscles when they are weak, fatigued, or tight6 may also increase your risk of sustaining a muscle strain injury.

Pulled Muscle Symptoms

The symptoms of a pulled muscle will present a little differently for everyone.

However, below are some of the more prevalent symptoms7:

  • A twinge of pain deep in the muscle: Tears in the muscle can feel like a sharp pain, located deep within the muscle.
  • Limited range of motion: Depending on the severity and amount of muscle fiber tears, you may lose some muscle function, as well as your range of motion.
  • Tension or discomfort: The symptoms of mildly pulled muscles may be easier to overlook. It might simply feel like there’s tension or discomfort in the general muscle area, but nothing that limits you too much.
  • Bruising or swelling: Symptoms of moderate to severe muscle strain may involve visible bruising or swelling around the injury site.
  • Pain: While some cases of muscle strain may simply feel uncomfortable, some people experience debilitating pain.

What Does a Pulled Muscle Feel Like?

Pain from a pulled muscle may feel uncomfortable, sore, or sharp. You can generally tell when you’ve pulled a muscle if the pain feels like it’s emitting from deep within the muscle, and worsens when you move.

For example, symptoms of a pulled muscle in the arm include pain when extending or contracting the arm. This may also affect your range of motion, depending on the severity of the pain.

How to Treat a Pulled Muscle

In spite of all your precautions, muscle strains and pulls are just a natural occurrence that we all have to face at some point.

The following are some of the remedies to consider for treating a pulled muscle:


This one may be obvious, but it’s also perhaps the most important, so it’s always worth reiterating. Since a pulled muscle occurs when you sustain a tear in the muscle fibers, resting will allow your muscle fibers to heal and fuse back together. This can aid in creating bigger and stronger muscles that will be better equipped to withstand future injuries8.

Cold and Heat Therapy

Should I use heat or ice on muscle pain?

Those experiencing severe pain from pulled muscles may find heat and cold therapy particularly helpful.

Heat therapy encourages blood circulation9 and relaxes the muscles.

What is cold therapy and is it good for me?

Cold therapy, ice packs for example, reduces pain perception, increases pain threshold10, and may reduce bruising and swelling by constricting blood vessels, slowing nerve conduction velocity, and preventing fluid build-up around the injury.

Over the Counter Treatment Options

Over-the-counter pain relievers are also available for muscle pain relief. You can generally find OTC pain relievers in the form of pills or a topical analgesic, such as Biofreeze menthol-based topical products.

OTC treatment options are great for short-term use and may be used alongside other holistic forms of treatment.

Your guide to muscle pain relief

Biofreeze Menthol-Pain Relieving Gel provides cold therapy pain relief11 using the cooling powers and sensations of menthol.17

Biofreeze Cream, Patch, Flexible Relief Strips, and Spray are also good options for treating muscle strains in the most commonly affected areas on the body (legs, arms, back, and stomach).

If your muscle pain is severe and persists despite use of OTC pain relievers, consult your doctor or healthcare professional to determine the appropriate course of treatment.

How to Prevent a Pulled Muscle

After recovering from a pulled muscle, the goal is to avoid re-injury.

Here are a few tips on how to prevent a pulled muscle:

  • Warm up and warm down: Exerting the muscles before they’ve been primed and prepped for physical activity risks a muscle strain injury. Make sure you stretch or do some gentle cardio, like jogging, before undertaking intense physical workouts or exercises. Warming down after exercise is just as important as warming up. If you don’t stretch before and after exercise, it can leave the muscles stiff12 and more prone to future injury.
  • Use correct body mechanics: Lifting something heavy with poor body mechanics can cause a muscle strain, even for individuals who are relatively strong. The proper way to lift something heavy is to drive force from the legs13 and maintain the natural curve of the back, as opposed to stooping over. Stooping over, or leaning forward to pick something up, relies largely on the lower back muscles. Naturally, lifting things in this way risks muscle strain in the lower back.
  • Strengthen and lengthen: Muscle strains tend to occur when the muscle is overstretched beyond its normal range of motion, or when the muscle is incapable of bearing the weight you exert on it. Practicing flexibility and strengthening the muscles14 can be a good way to help prevent re-injury. Yoga is a great way of doing this.
  • Rest when fatigued: Overexerting the muscles (excess tearing) can lead to a pulled muscle as well. When you can feel that your muscles are fatigued, stop and rest. Don’t push yourself too hard.