Pulled arm muscle symptoms

Updated March 23, 2017

A torn muscle can occur at any time to athletes, couch potatoes and everyone else in between. Also known as a "strained" or "pulled" muscle, it can be painful but not always immediately. In order to prevent further, and possibly more serious, injury, it is important that you know the symptoms of a torn arm muscle so that you can act wisely to protect yourself and recover quickly.


Torn muscles, regardless of size, are typically tender in the affected area. If you touch the affected area and it is painful when pressed, you most likely have a torn muscle, but if not, you may have merely sprained (torn the ligament attaching muscle to bone) or exhausted the muscle.


Typically, torn muscles swell. This is the body's reaction to trauma; the area floods with fluids including lymph, blood, and antibodies to heal and safeguard the damaged area. Swelling can be detected by comparing an injured arm with an uninjured arm.


When a muscle is damaged, other muscles surrounding it try to do it's job for it--jobs that they are ill-designed to complete. Also, when a muscle is damaged, your brain sends out a signal to the other muscles to protect the damaged one. The result of these two factors is a hardened area, also called a "knot," surrounding the damaged muscle.

Inability to move

If your muscle cannot move--that is you try to move it and you either feel severe pain or the muscle refuses to move--you may have seriously torn, or even completely ruptured, the muscle. In milder cases, this may manifest as "weakness" of the muscle; the muscle cannot perform relatively simple tasks such as raising a glass of water to your lips.


The acronym RICE is used to remember the treatment regimen for torn, strained or pulled muscles over the course of 48 to 72 hours after an injury. R stands for "rest." It is important to rest the muscle so that the body can continue to heal it. Overuse of a pulled muscle can interfere with its healing or even damage it further. I stands for "ice" or in this case, any cold source; a reusable ice pack, an emergency disposable cold pack, or even a package of frozen vegetables. The cold compress should be wrapped in a cloth before application and will reduce swelling and pain. C stands for "compress" the injury. Using a cloth bandage laced with elastic (like Ace brand bandages) wrap the muscle snugly (but not too tightly) to keep the body from pumping too much fluid into the affected area. E stands for "elevation." Keep the muscle elevated over the level of the heart as much as possible; this plus the previous two treatments, will prevent excess swelling which can be both painful and counterproductive to healing.

bibliography-icon icon for annotation tool Cite this Article

About the Author

Michael Hinckley received a Bachelor of Arts degree in US history from the University of Cincinnati, a Master of Arts degree in Middle East history from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Hinckley is conversant in Arabic, and is a part-time lecturer at two Midwestern universities.