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How to Heal a Torn Muscle: What You Need to Know

by Princeton Orthopaedic Associates

How to Heal a Torn Muscle: What You Need to Know

by Princeton Orthopaedic Associates

How to Heal a Torn Muscle: What You Need to Know

We've all been there - you're trying to stay fit, but sometimes your body protests with aches, sprains, and soreness. While these are common, there's a more serious issue to watch out for muscle tears, also known as strains. Tears and strains can happen to anyone, not just elite athletes or exercise enthusiasts. Whether you're overexerting yourself during workouts, not warming up properly, or simply having an accident, muscle tears are a possibility for all of us. In this article, we'll break down what you need to know about muscle tears and, most importantly, how to treat them if they happen to you.

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What's a Muscle Tear?

A torn muscle can occur when your muscle is stretched or strained beyond its limits. This can result from:

  • Overexertion
  • Improper use
  • Excessive wear and tear

While any muscle can be affected, muscle tears are most common in the neck, shoulder, lower back, and hamstring.

These tears come in different levels of severity: mild, which affects about 5% of the muscle's fibers; moderate, with up to 25%-30% damage, often accompanied by pain, swelling, and reduced range of motion; and severe, which is an actual tear in the muscle, causing extensive swelling.

Recognizing Muscle Tear Symptoms

When you tear a muscle, you'll know it right away. Expect pain, soreness, spasms, and swelling in the affected area. Depending on the severity, you may have difficulty moving the affected area, or it may even become immobile. You might also notice swelling, bruising, discoloration, and a "knotted up" feeling or stiffness. In cases of overuse, symptoms might take a while to become noticeable. However, if the strain or tear is acute and severe, like from an accident, seek immediate medical attention. Your orthopedist might order an MRI or X-ray to confirm the diagnosis and recommend the appropriate treatment.

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Muscle Tear Symptom Summary:

  • Pain
  • Soreness
  • Spasms
  • Swelling in the affected area
  • Difficulty moving the affected area or immobility
  • Swelling
  • Bruising or discoloration
  • A "knotted up" feeling or stiffness

Recovering from Muscle Tears

Muscle tears range from minor to severe. We always recommend seeking an evaluation so you can set off down the best route of recovery.

For minor strains or tears, the R.I.C.E. method can be your best friend.

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation
male applying cold compress/pack to a his injured shoulder

Your orthopedist may also suggest NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to reduce swelling. Moderate muscle strains or tears can follow a similar treatment plan, but it may take longer. In some cases, physical therapy might be necessary.

Severe tears that require surgery can take months or even longer to heal. In these situations, a nifty rule is: Do no H.A.R.M. - this means avoid: 

  • Heat
  • Alcohol 
  • Running
  • Massage

These activities can exacerbate bleeding and swelling in the muscle tear.

Preventing Muscle Tears

The good news is that, in most cases, you can prevent muscle tears. Proper warm-up techniques, using the correct form during exercise, and respecting your body's limits are crucial. There's no need to push your body to extremes; pain is not a sign of progress but rather a warning that injury is looming. Listen to your body and understand its signals. This is the best way to avoid injury and ensure long-term peak performance.

woman stretching with senior woman

Tips for preventing muscle strains and muscle tears:

  • Proper warm-up
  • Stretching
  • Correct form during exercise
  • Respecting your body's limits

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Think you have a muscle strain or muscle tear?

Please contact us! We'd love to help.

If you are suffering from muscle pain, please contact us and schedule an appointment. We have urgent care facilities all over New Jersey for your convenience.


When you're on the road to recovery from a muscle injury, the right treatment plan is crucial. If You're Dealing with a torn muscle or bad strain, don't wait! Princeton Orthopaedic Associates' experienced orthopedic doctors can help you with muscle tears and all types of orthopedic injuries. Don't take unnecessary risks that could prolong your recovery; you can benefit from our doctors' decades of combined experience to receive personalized care and get back on your feet. Don't let an injury like a muscle tear hold you back.

We look forward to getting you back to doing what you love!

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