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Common Running Injuries – Muscle Pulls

Gatton Hall 10K Run - July 2011 - The Leading Lady in the Home StraightMuscle pulls are one of the few common injuries that strike runners – that isn’t an overuse injury. Being tired can reduce your ability to cope with an unusual situation like the sudden tree root, buried beneath uncut grass, that you unknowingly step on. However, muscle pulls are more related to your muscle strength and flexibility level. Taking care of your body is going to help you prevent them. Read on to see what happens when you pull a muscle.

What Is a Muscle Pull?

Muscle pulls (sometimes called strains) are actually tears of your muscle. Doctors generally refer to them as a Grade I, II, or III depending on the severity of the injury.

  • Grade I – The muscle is stretched, causing microscopic tears of the muscle. Recovery is measured in weeks and full health can be achieved in as little as two weeks.
  • Grade II – The muscle is partially torn. This is a far more severe injury. Recovery can take up to two full months.
  • Grade III – This usually refers to a complete tear (or rupture) of the muscle. Recovery can take several months and surgery is usually needed to repair the muscle.

How Do You Get It?

  • Accident. Muscle pulls most often happen by accident. For runners, this means you shouldn’t put yourself in a situation where accidents can happen. Watch out for obstacles and terrain changes when you’re out running.
  • Overuse. A muscle is giving way as it tears, so these types of injuries usually happen to athletes who start and stop violently (and often). So, for runners, this means it happens more often to sprinters. Distance runners don’t have the issue as often. Common pulls include hamstring and calf pulls.
  • Muscle Imbalance/Weakness. People who do not do any sort of cross-training or strength training are at a higher risk of pulling a muscle.


Muscle pulls are sharp and painful. If you only have a minor pull, you may be able to continue your activity until it’s completion (although that’s not recommended). Once you stop swelling will set in and you’ll be forced out of action. More serious pulls/tears are bad enough where you cannot continue running. This is in contrast to most other common running injuries, where overuse sets in over a period of time and your body breaks down slowly.


When you pull a muscle, you should see a doctor. Grade I muscle pulls usually require few weeks of rest. Grade II pulls require rest, followed by physical therapy. Grade III pulls may also require surgery and months of therapy. Here are some things you can do on your own.

  1. Rest. Remember, you have tears in your muscle. Any activity, no matter how mild will not speed the healing process.
  2. Ice. Icing the muscle will help keep swelling and pain to a minimum.
  3. Compression. This really helps a lot with muscle pulls. Taping it up or wearing compression clothing can dramatically reduce pain.
  4. Elevation. Yep, is the old-fashioned RICE method.
  5. OTC Medicines. Taking some anti-inflammatory medicine may help reduce swelling. Your doctor may prescribe something stronger if necessary.
  6. Foam Roller. When healing, your body builds scar tissue in places where the tears have taken place. Using a foam roller will stimulate blood flow (and therefore helping you fully heal). Think of scar tissue like a patch on a pair of ripped jeans. Your muscle isn’t fully healed until the scar tissue becomes part of the muscle.
  7. Physical Therapy. A therapist can guide you through routines of specific exercises that will allow you to heal safely. They can also monitor your progress and make sure you’re doing everything you need to do to heal.


Much of the time, you can’t prevent a muscle pull. However, there are some things you can do to help reduce the change.

  1. Learn proper running form. Forefoot striking eliminates the “reaching” forward of the leg that is common with heel strikers. This way you won’t be caught in an awkward position if you step on an unexpected obstacle.
  2. Warm up. You are most susceptible to muscle pulls at the beginning of a workout when your muscles are not warmed up. Warming up will help you ease into action and avoid the stress of a sudden start.
  3. Pay attention. To where you are, and where you are headed. Look for potholes, rocks, roots, curbs, and other obstacles you can trip on.
  4. Do some strength training. This will help your body resist the sudden trauma if you do have an accident.
Image By:  Gareth Williams via Compfight

This is a post in a series of articles about common running injuries. These articles are purposely broad and intended for your education. Do not use this information as a substitute for doctor’s advice or a professional medical opinion. To see the entire series, click here.

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September 25th, 2012
Written By: Brett

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