How Can I Tell the Difference Between a Pulled Muscle and a Torn Muscle?

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There is little difference between a pulled muscle and a torn muscle, unless the muscle is completely torn into two pieces, then there is a big difference.  When the muscle is stretched too far the muscles fibres can break, causing a pull or tear.  Think of the muscle as a rope, we’ve all seen a movie where someone is hanging over a cliff by a rope that is slowly tearing, that’s similar to what happens to your muscle when you pull it, the fibres stretch and tear.  It sounds a lot worse than it actually is.  When we build a muscle we work it out till there are tiny tears that heal stronger than they were before, that’s how a muscle builds and that’s why you may feel stiff and painful the day after a strenuous workout.

A lingering pull is not just from working out, you can pull a muscle by stepping the wrong way on a dance floor, or by stretching yourself too far, perhaps you tried to do the splits and didn’t quite make it.  These pulls can be painful but they are not nearly as serious as a completely torn muscle.  A pulled muscle will heal on its own, but it may take a full month to be completely healed, a completely torn muscle will usually require surgery to fix.

How can you tell the difference?  The more severe the damage the more severe the signs, there will be bruising, swelling, redness, and a lot of stiffness.  If the muscle looks fine from the outside, but feels painful it’s almost definitely just a pull, if there is a significant amount of bruising and swelling there could be a tear. Your doctor will judge if the muscle is torn by visually examining the area first, if the damage is obvious you may need to go for an X-ray, if the muscle is torn in two you will need surgery to fix it.

If the muscle is just pulled, which by now you probably have an idea of whether or not your muscle is pulled or torn you can treat it yourself.  Avoid using the muscle in any significant way, aspirin or other pain relievers will help, if the pain if too great for over the counter medication you can get a prescription.  Eating extra protein will help the muscle build itself back up quicker as well.

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