Can You Exercise With Strained Muscles?

If you experience the symptoms of a muscle strain, rest.

If you experience the symptoms of a muscle strain, rest.

Many athletes approach a sport with a "get back in the saddle" attitude. That is, in the event of an injury, an athlete may simply want to continue competing or to finish the race. When it comes to muscle strain, it may be physically possible for an athlete to continue exercising with a strained muscle, but it will likely be painful and will only put off recovery for a longer period of time. Instead, if you experience the symptoms of muscle strain, apply the RICE treatment -- rest, ice, compression and elevation. The "R" of RICE means you should refrain from strenuous exercise when you have a strained muscle.

Muscle Strain Defined

A muscle strain, also called a pulled muscle, involves the stretching or tearing of the muscle tissue. The tear might be very small but can still cause tenderness and pain. A more serious muscle strain can even cause internal bleeding and may hinder the functioning of the muscle.

Causes of Muscle Strain

Overstretching a muscle can cause a slight muscle strain, as well as strenuous overuse of a particular muscle. If a muscle is exercised continually without rest it runs the risk of a strain. Muscle strains are more common in athletes, but can occur during everyday chores such as lifting a heavy box or object. Failing to warm up stiff or tight muscles before a workout can increase the chance of muscle strain.

Symptoms of Muscle Strain

The symptoms of a strained muscle vary depending on the seriousness of the injury. You will likely experience some degree of muscle soreness and sometimes muscle cramps. A bruise may appear around the injured area and it may swell. Severe strains may cause a loss of muscle strength and function.

RICE Treatment

Muscle strains may be self-treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation, but if the pain persists, consult your doctor. Apply ice to the injured area and compress and elevate the injured limb. Give your muscle plenty of time to rest, even if the strain is slight and still allows you to exercise. Taking ibuprofen can help reduce swelling. Gently stretching a strained muscle can help relax the muscle fibers that may become tight. However, be careful not to overstretch a strained muscle or you could risk retearing the fibers. Pay attention to your body and don't stretch the strained muscle to the point of pain.

About the Author

Joelle Dedalus began writing professionally for websites such as in 2009. She received her B.A. in English education at Iowa State University and is currently a M.F.A. candidate in creative nonfiction writing at Emerson College in Boston, where she is developing a manuscript on literary travel. Her areas of expertise include travel and literature, the outdoors and the arts.

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