Strain: Definition and What it is

Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT

Strain Definition and Meaning

Also known as a pulled muscle, a strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon, the tissue that connects your muscles to your bones. Strains often result from doing more activity than your body is ready for. If you haven’t been active for a while, for instance, you may be more likely to pull a muscle or experience an injury. With a strain, you may notice pain, swelling, and decreased range of motion, as well as spasms, weakness, and cramping

Strains: A Hinge Health Perspective 

Hearing that you’ve “torn” something in your body can sound alarming, but keep in mind that your muscles and tendons are very resilient and are designed to recover from these kinds of issues that naturally can happen in the course of everyday activities or during exercise.

If you’re reluctant to move because you think you’ll cause more pain or injury, know this: Movement is often the fastest way to healing. As our Hinge Health care team says, movement is medicine. The reason: You want your muscles and tendons to remain flexible and mobile to prevent tightness that can lead to a strain. In order to do that, you need to engage in exercises that support your healing and strengthen the affected area to help prevent future injury.

Types of Strains

Strains vary in severity, from mild to severe, depending on how much tearing occurs in the pulled muscle or tendon. In most cases, strains aren’t serious and can be treated at home with conservative measures. 

Strain Examples

Strains usually happen during physical activity, but that doesn’t mean any particular activity is bad or risky. It just means you may have done more than your body was ready for, like if you join a pickup soccer game, for instance, and do more sprinting than you had anticipated, leading to a hamstring strain. Or, say, you went out for a run but didn’t warm up enough, causing you to strain your Achilles tendon. Maybe you tackled a full day of housework that challenged your body too much at one time. Strains can happen for a variety of reasons but that doesn’t mean you have to give up doing these things — strains can serve as an indicator that your body may need more strengthening before engaging in certain activities. 

Sprain vs. Strain

It’s easy to mix up strains and sprains. A strain may cause symptoms similar to sprains, but they involve different structures. Sprains involve injuring ligaments, which attach two bones together. Strains involve injuring muscles or tendons. One simple trick to remember the difference between a sprain (which affects ligaments) and a strain (which affects tendons and muscles) is that strain has a “t” like tendon.  

Prevention and Treatment

Most of the time, you can treat  strains at home. You may be familiar with the R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation) approach to healing. While certain elements of R.I.C.E. are still recommended, this is actually an outdated model for recovery. Experts now recommend a more updated treatment approach: P.E.A.C.E. and L.O.V.E. This framework prioritizes movement and exercise as integral to recovery. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

 The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. 

Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.


  1. Mulcahey, M.K. June 2020. Sprains, Strains, and Other Soft-Tissue Injuries. OrthoInfo. 

  2. Sprains and Strains. (n.d.). Medline Plus. Retrieved from   

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