Your audio personal trainer

Great Workouts. Top trainers. Curated playlists.

Lower back pain when stretching - young woman stretching outdoors

Pulling a muscle: Causes & prevention methods

Pulling a muscle is seriously painful. It’s uncomfortable, aggravating and affects our physical health during the process. In most cases, pulling a muscle happens during exercise or from improper movement. 

What happens when you pull a muscle?

“Muscle knots are tiny accumulations of scar tissue that from when you pull a muscle, causing pain and stiffness” states Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center. “When a muscle becomes injured from trauma or overuse, the tiny fibers start to form a scar, which can lead to tightness and pain.”

A great analogy suggested by Dr. Robert W. Berghorn, Jr., DPT, ATC, USAW is comparing clothing fibers to our muscle fibers. He states that “just like with any type of fiber that we come across in clothing, there is a specific amount of force that is required to put a hole or tear in that clothing. Our muscles are a biological type of fiber that also have a variable of force, at which there is a point when it also fails. Thus, pulling a muscle. Many fibers working together are much stronger than single fibers. This may be why you notice pain in just one area as opposed to the whole muscle.”

The common causes

Dr. Lina Velikova, MD, PhD, is a medical advisor at Supplement101. She suggests that the most common causes of torn muscles are: 

  • Improper use of a muscle (for instance incorrectly performed exercises) 
  • Fatigue
  • Overuse

Usually, pulled muscles occur in the lower back, neck, shoulder and the thigh area. 

Different types of muscle strains

According to Dr. Robert W. Berghorn, Jr., DPT, ATC, USAW, “there are three different grades of muscle pulls that can occur and whether you seek treatment or not is dependent on how significant the “pull” is.”

Grade 1 muscle strain

“A grade 1 muscle pull or strain is the tearing of some muscle fibers without deformity. Basically, you will have some pain or soreness that is more than usual and will last longer than the normal soreness you would get from a hard workout.

“In this case, it is not significantly necessary to seek medical treatment unless it lasts longer than two weeks without change. For this, modify activity as tolerated and avoid any significant bursts of force or powerful activities to allow the area to heal.”

Grade 2 muscle strain

“A grade 2 muscle pull or strain is more significant and involves more significant tearing of fibers. In this case, you may note a deviation, a “bruise” like pattern that occurs from bleeding from the torn fibers, and disability in function (inability to apply weight to leg, unable to lift arm overhead, etc.).

“These types of injuries should be sought for medical attention if the pain and function does not resolve in two days time, if your function is not severely interrupted. If you are unable to lift your arm or unable to bear significant weight on your leg, then seeking medical treatment right away is paramount.”

Grade 3 muscle strain

“A grade 3 muscle pull is a full tearing of the entire muscle or tendon. This would involve bruising that develops in a few hours to a day after incident, immediate loss of function, and severe pain initially but potential diminishing pain afterward (tearing of involved nerve fibers are no longer communicating with the brain).

“In this case, seeking appropriate medical treatment from urgent care, orthopedist, and/or a physical therapist is paramount to determine if surgical repair is needed and to restore function to normal as soon as possible.” 

When to seek medical attention

Pulling a muscle is fairly normal and in most circumstances doesn’t require medical attention unless:

  • Pain is excruciating (eg. inability to walk or function after a day or two of the incident)
  • Bruising develops within a day after the incident with an immediate loss of function 
  • Evident numbness or bleeding in an area, causing inability to function 
  • Pain is not subsiding after a week 

Ways to prevent pulling a muscle

Pulling a muscle: Causes & prevention methods

1. Ensure you have good form and posture when exercising 

If you’re unsure about whether your form is correct, refer to expert video guides and sources to help with this. The Auro app is brilliant, especially for those in lockdown at the moment, struggling to find a personal trainer to help improve their form. There are hundreds of on-demand classes, guided by world-class trainers. There are also several video guides to aid with your posture. 

The beauty of Auro is the fact that it is an audio fitness and wellness app. All classes have been created with the individual in mind. To avoid you twisting awkwardly, trying to see what the next move is, the audio guides you perfectly through the workout so you know exactly what you’re doing. Auro also offers 14 days free so you can test out the product for two weeks before committing to anything. It’s worth a go! 

Pulling a muscle: Causes & prevention methods

2. Stretch and warm up before you start exercising

It’s really important to make sure your muscles are loosened up before you start working out. Whether you’re doing a quick run or an intense weight or HIIT session, a 5-minute warm up makes a whole world of a difference. 

Some good warm ups include: 

  • Skipping
  • Jogging on the spot
  • Star jumps
  • Light boxing

Again, if you’re looking for a specific stretch or warm up based on your fitness goals, the Auro app can help provide you with a great selection.

Pulling a muscle: Causes & prevention methods

3. Are you sitting comfortably?

Okay good, I’ll begin… your posture when sitting down is extremely vital. If you’re sitting at a desk all day, be sure to take regular breaks. It’s important that your spine is straight and not hunched over too.

If you’re slouching at night binge watching Netflix – it’s just got to stop! Not only could it lead to more severe issues the older you get, but it puts a lot of strain on your upper back and neck. Support your back and love it! 

There are also a number of great exercises you can do to strengthen your back. For example, deadlifts, back rows, planks and back extensions. 

Pulling a muscle: Causes & prevention methods

4. Listen to your body

If you’re feeling an uncomfortable pain anywhere whilst working out – stop! You don’t need to push yourself to the point of over-exertion. This will just lead to you pulling a muscle and stopping you from reaching your goal faster as you’ll have to wait and recover from your injury. If your body is telling you no, please listen. 

Pulling a muscle: Causes & prevention methods

5. Lift the right way

You see a heavy box or item on the floor. What do you do? 

a) Go straight down and pick it up

b) Bend at the knees, pick it up slowly, keeping your core engaged and your spine straight

c) Try pick it up with your feet

For those of you who picked B, well done you are correct! You may be thinking, why on earth would I squeeze my core for a box of bananas. It’s crucial you support your back by engaging your core through lifting. Sometimes, even the lightest of items can cause you to a pull a muscle. Just to avoid pulling a muscle, bend those knees, engage that core and keep your spine straight.

The outcome

Pulling a muscle is fairly normal. But if you do experience any of the above issues, please seek medical attention immediately. And to prevent pulling a muscle in the future, give a few of those suggestions a go. It’s beneficial for your physical and mental wellbeing to keep all your muscles intact! 

If you’re looking for a fitness and wellness solution to help with your exercise, download the Auro app. It’s the app made for real people, delivered by real trainers.

Start Your Free Trial