What is muscle strain?

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Muscle strain in children: Overview

A muscle strain happens when your child overstretches, or pulls, a muscle. It can happen when your child exercises or lifts something or when your child has an accident. Rest and other home care can help the muscle heal.

Muscle strain

Most muscle strains (pulled muscles) are caused by overstretching muscles. Strains may be minor or severe, such as a torn muscle or tendon.

Symptoms of a muscle strain can vary depending on how severe the strain is and may include:

  • Pain and tenderness that is worse with movement.
  • Swelling and bruising.
  • Normal or limited muscle movement.
  • A bulge or deformity at the site of a complete tear.

Recovery time for a muscle strain can vary depending on a person's age and health and the type and severity of the strain. While a minor strain often heals well with home treatment, a severe strain may require medical treatment. If a severe strain is not treated, a person may have long-term pain, limited movement, and deformity.

How can you care for your child who has muscle strain?

  • Have your child rest the strained muscle. Do not let your child put weight on it for a day or two. If your doctor advises it, have your child use crutches or a sling to rest a sore limb.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the sore area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when your child is awake). Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin.
  • Prop up the sore arm or leg on a pillow when you ice it or anytime your child sits or lies down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your child's heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • After 2 or 3 days, you can try applying heat to the area that hurts. Apply heat for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. You might also try switching between ice and heat.
  • Be safe with medicines. Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor prescribed medicine for your child's pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Your child should not do anything that makes the pain worse. Have your child return to activity gradually as your child feels better.

Muscle strain in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new severe pain.
  • Your child's injured limb is cool or pale or changes color.
  • Your child has tingling, weakness, or numbness in the injured limb.
  • Your child cannot move the injured area.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child cannot put weight on a joint, or your child feels unsteady when walking.
  • Pain and swelling get worse or do not start to get better after 2 days of home treatment.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.