Regardless of activity level, no one is immune to muscle strains. And what is a muscle strain? It’s damage to a muscle or tendon (AKA the tissue that attaches muscle to bone).1,2 A strain can be as mild as over-stretching and as severe as tearing in the muscle or tendon. Muscle strains are not limited to athletes, either; you can strain a muscle by lifting something too heavy (say, a box of books, or an eager grandkid). Using one muscle over and over can cause strain, as can falling, reaching, turning your head too far or too quickly... the list goes on.1

Whatever the cause: ouch

Injury like a muscle strain causes pain, swelling, and redness that can be inconvenient and uncomfortable. Most muscle strains can be treated at home or with physical therapy, although sometimes strains can be bad enough to need surgery to repair the torn muscle. It’s never a bad idea to talk to your healthcare provider, but they might just recommend using some of the following treatments to help your body heal.3

Check out these six treatments to soothe muscle strain:

1. Cold therapy

Cool it! As noted above, any tissue damage in your body can cause pain and inflammation. Inflammation and swelling isn’t always bad; it means your immune system is working to heal the injury and break down damaged tissue. But too much inflammation/swelling can slow down recovery.4 You can help combat these symptoms by applying cold to the injury, ideally as quickly as possible after it occurs.5,6 Continue applying cold several times a day for 20-30 minutes at a time. Some of the methods you can use are:

  • Ice or gel packs
  • Cold-water baths
  • Cold therapy systems

In most cases, an ice pack is the most readily available solution immediately after an injury. However, using a cold therapy system for the duration of your recovery may help with your recovery process because a cold therapy system applies continuous, uniform cold to help treat both pain and inflammation.2, 7

2. Compression

Push it! Another way to help treat a pulled muscle is by applying pressure to the affected area. Compression helps reduce swelling and inflammation, both of which can make the injury more painful and slow down healing.8 You can use static compression (meaning the pressure doesn’t change unless you change it) with an elastic bandage or cloth wrap. There’s also active compression: a pumping action or squeeze-and-release that can provide more benefits, including helping your body remove excess fluid in the injured area and increasing the flow of freshly oxygenated blood, which is needed for tissue repair and healing.9,10

3. Massage

Dig in! Therapeutic massage helps loosen tight muscles and increase blood flow to help heal damaged tissues. Applying pressure to the injured muscle tissue also helps remove excess fluid as well as the things your immune cells leave behind after processing damaged tissue.11 In fact, a 2012 study found that massage right after an injury may even speed strained muscle healing.12 If the area is too sensitive for massage, wait about a week and ask your doctor. After that, you can start massaging the injury and surrounding muscles to help with pain and improve range of motion. 

4. Heat therapy

Heat therapy may help relieve pain after the initial swelling has gone down.10 Some tools for heat therapy include:

  • Electric hot pads
  • Warm baths or hot tubs
  • Hot cloths
  • Hot water bottles

Heat also increases blood flow, which may promote healing.13 You can alternate hot and cold therapy to help reduce the pain and swelling caused by a muscle strain.

5. Physical therapy

During recovery from a muscle strain, it’s a good idea to try and stay active to prevent the muscles surrounding the injured one from growing weak. Physical therapy can help promote muscle strength and healing, reducing your risk of hurting yourself again.14 A physical therapist can show you stretching exercises that may help you stay flexible and keep your range of motion. In some cases, you may also do strengthening exercises to build up supporting muscles to help reduce the risk of another muscle strain.

6. Pain medication

Muscle strains can be quite painful, and if you have injured a major muscle group, it may impact your ability to perform daily activities. You can relieve pain with over-the-counter medications like aspirin or other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which may also help reduce swelling. For more extreme muscle strains, your doctor might suggest a stronger pain medication for a few days.15 As always, discuss any treatments with your healthcare provider before starting.

Try not to do anything that could make the injury worse again, even if pain medication makes you feel better temporarily. Give your body the time it needs to heal.

Most muscle strains may be treated at home with a combination of the above methods. If the pain doesn’t decrease after a couple of days or if you are concerned about a more serious injury, it’s always a good idea to seek medical attention from a professional. When you speak to your doctor, ask about getting a prescription for Game Ready, the active compression and cold therapy system that may help you recover as quickly as possible.16


  1. Muscle strains. Mayo Clinic. Published April 27, 2019.
  2. Tendon. Cleveland Clinic. 2024.
  3. Muscle Strains and Sprains. Cleveland Clinic. October 11, 2022.
  4. How is inflammation involved in swelling? Britannica.
  5. Brazier Y. Heat and cold treatment: which is best? Medical News Today. Published July 25, 2017.
  6. Malanga GA, Yan N, Stark J. Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury. Postgraduate Medicine. 2014;127(1):57-65.
  7. Klaber I, Greeff E, O’Donnell J. Compressive cryotherapy is superior to cryotherapy alone in reducing pain after hip arthroscopy. Journal of Hip Preservation Surgery. Published online October 30, 2019:hnz048. doi:10.1093/jhps/hnz048
  8. Krans B. Muscle strain treatment. Healthline. Published December 8, 2015.
  9. Mahoney E. Chapter 15: Therapeutic modalities for tissue healing. In: Bellew JW, Michlovitz SL, Nolan TP Jr., eds. Modalities for Therapeutic Intervention. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis Company; 2010.§ionid=141709490.  
  10. Airaksinen O, Kolari PJ, Miettinen H. Elastic Bandages and Intermittent Pneumatic Compression for Treatment of Acute Ankle Sprains.
  11. Removal of waste products. Accessed May 22, 2019.
  12. Dallas ME. Massage right after muscle injury may boost healing. MedicineNet. Published July 12, 2012.
  13. Ice versus heat. Fleet Feet Sports. Accessed May 10, 2019.
  14. Physical therapy for sprains and strains. UPMC HealthBeat. Published May 10, 2014.
  15. Harvard Health Publishing. Muscle strain. Harvard Health. Published December 2018.
  16. Leegwater NC, Willems JH, Brohet R, Nolte PA. Cryocompression Therapy after Elective Arthroplasty of the Hip. HIP International. 2012;22(5):527-533. doi:10.5301/HIP.2012.9761