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How can I tell if I have torn a muscle?

Updated March 23, 2017

Athletes frequently suffer torn muscles. But too often, they don't recognise the symptoms of a strained muscle. Instead of resting their muscles--the right treatment for the majority of muscle strains--athletes try to run, lift or jog through their pain. This only delays recovery time. By recognising the symptoms of a torn muscle, athletes are more likely to properly rest their bodies, allowing their strained muscles to heal naturally.

Most muscle strains are in the legs

Athletes place a lot of strain on their legs. This explains why the majority of torn muscles take place in the leg area. Common muscle tears in this part of the body include calf, hamstring, quadriceps and plantaris strains. Calf strains are especially common in athletes who often have to plant their feet before throwing a ball, swinging a tennis racket or kicking a soccer ball. This muscle tear happens when the foot bends up beyond its typical range of movement. Those suffering this tear might hear a popping sound, or feel a sharp tug, as the calf muscle tears from the Achilles tendon.

The quadriceps strain is also common. This tear usually happens when something--a ball or a helmet, for example--directly strikes the anterior thigh hard enough. Depending on the severity of the blow, the pain can be intense.

Common symptoms of a torn muscle

There are certain signs to look for when trying to determine when a muscle has been strained or torn. The most obvious sign is pain. This pain can be acute, a sudden burst of pain that most often happens immediately after an obvious injury. The pain can also come on more gradually. This usually happens following repetitive motions, such as when someone is lifting free weights or swinging a racquetball racket for an extended period of time.

Swelling is another common sign of a torn muscle. Those suffering a torn muscle might also feel knots in their calf muscles, biceps, shoulders or quadriceps. These knots result when surrounding muscles spasm in an effort to protect the strained muscle.

People who find themselves favouring one leg over the other, or one arm over the other, may be suffering from a torn muscle. People often subconsciously favour the healthy leg or arm over one that is plagued by a strained muscle.

Rest is usually the best treatment

In the majority of cases, people can best treat their torn muscles with rest. When a muscle tear happens, victims should immediately raise their affected area. This causes blood to flow away from the injured area, reducing the pain. Long-term treatment mostly involves resting the strained muscle. It's essential to refrain from strenuous activity that might cause even greater injury.

If pain persists for several weeks, or if the pain from the muscle tear is particularly intense, victims should seek outside medical treatment.

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About the Author

Don Rafner has been writing professionally since 1992, with work published in "The Washington Post," "Chicago Tribune," "Phoenix Magazine" and several trade magazines. He is also the managing editor of "Midwest Real Estate News." He specializes in writing about mortgage lending, personal finance, business and real-estate topics. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Illinois.