Pulled muscles are caused by straining and overexerting the muscles, usually during exercise. Tears occur in the muscle, allowing fluid to build up and causing the muscle to swell. The muscle will feel extremely sore and movement in the muscle will be restricted due to pain. Pulled muscles can be treated at home with rest. The muscle will usually need to be elevated and ice needs to be applied within the first 24 hours to reduce swelling. A muscle strain will generally last two to three weeks.
Recognise whether the pain you are experiencing is an ache or a severe tightness that restricts movement. The swelling and muscle constriction in a pulled muscle is more intense than that of a muscle ache. Occasionally it will feel like the muscle is spasming when it is used.
Feel the muscle and check for swelling. A pulled muscle will have a build-up of fluids inside the muscle tears. The swelling may appear subtle at first, and appear stronger after a few hours.
Check the feeling in the muscle after two to three days. A pulled muscle lasts for two to three weeks when cared for properly. A muscle ache will generally only last for approximately two days.
Check for bruising. Pulled muscles can sometimes appear bruised or discoloured as well as swollen. A dent may also appear over the area.
Be aware of the point the muscle actually began to hurt. A pulled muscle will often "pop" at the point of injury. An immediate decrease in muscle strength often follows, along with intense pain.