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When to Go to a Doctor or Urgent Care for Muscle Strains

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woman holding her neck; When to Go to a Doctor or Urgent Care for Muscle Strains

Your muscles contain bundles of thread-like fibers. An injury or repetitive motions, like bending and twisting, can cause strain, leading to a pulled muscle (or muscle strain). When you pull a muscle, the fibers stretch abnormally or tear. Loras Even, DO, UnityPoint Health, explains when to consider going to urgent care for muscle strains.

How Would I Know if I’ve Pulled a Muscle?

“It’s common to think of muscle strains as sports injuries. But everyday activities, such as sitting at a desk or sleeping in an awkward position, cause strains, too,” says Dr. Even. “Sometimes they’re due to sudden jerking movements, like trying to regain your footing after tripping on something.”

Strains often affect muscles in the:

  • Back
  • Calf
  • Groin
  • Hamstring (back of your leg)
  • Neck
  • Wrist

If you’ve pulled a muscle, you are likely to experience:

  • Bruising
  • Change in the skin’s appearance, such as a gap or dent (rare)
  • Cramping that comes and goes (muscle spasms)
  • Difficulty moving the affected area
  • Pain even when sitting
  • Swelling

When to Go to Urgent Care for a Muscle Strain

“Muscle strains can be uncomfortable and complicate your daily life. But they often heal on their own. It just takes time,” Dr. Even explains.

However, some strains require medical attention.

“It’s worth your peace of mind to come in for strain symptoms you find worrisome.”

You may want to consider going to urgent care if:

  • Pain isn’t going away after a few days, or it’s getting worse
  • Symptoms include numbness or tingling
  • You heard a “pop” when the injury occurred
  • It’s challenging to perform basic tasks, like walking or getting out of bed
  • You experience numbness or tingling
  • You cannot move the area
  • Pain radiates down the arms or legs
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers aren’t helping

Wondering what pain reliever to try? Learn more about acetaminophen vs. ibuprofen: what to take when.

How Can an Urgent Care Provider Help Me?

Coming to urgent care can take some of the uncertainty out of muscle strain recovery.

“It’s natural to be somewhat anxious. With a slow-healing injury like this, you may wonder whether you’re on the right track. We are happy to discuss your diagnosis, treatment plan and prognosis.”

Other ways urgent care providers can help include:

  • Prescribing medications or giving injections for pain that won’t quit
  • Providing home-care guidance, including specific stretches or strengthening exercises
  • Referring you to physical therapy for additional assistance during your recovery
  • Giving you self-care recommendations to lower your risk of re-injury
  • Developing plans for a safe return to work, sports or other physical activities
  • Providing a doctor’s note if you need to reduce or avoid certain work activities

For a prompt evaluation and diagnosis, visit a UnityPoint Health Urgent Care. Urgent care providers treat patients of all ages, including adolescents and older adults. They get to the source of the pain and recommend therapies that bring relief. No appointment is necessary.

Preparing for Your Urgent Care Visit

When you come to urgent care, your provider will ask questions about your symptoms and what may have caused the strain. You also receive a thorough physical exam to help determine the strain’s location and severity. This information helps plan the next steps of your care.

We may ask you to explain:

  • The circumstances that may have caused you to pull a muscle
  • What symptoms feel like
  • How symptoms affect your ability to move and complete daily tasks
  • Whether you have previously strained the area
  • If specific postures, movements or activities make the pain worse
  • Which at-home therapies you may have tried.

At-Home Care for Minor Strains

It might not be necessary to go to urgent care for strains causing mild symptoms. In many cases, over-the-counter pain medications are enough to relieve discomfort.

You can also use the P.R.I.C.E. method:

  • P = Protection. Avoid activities that make symptoms worse.
  • R = Rest. Try using the affected muscle as little as possible.
  • I = Ice. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel to minimize swelling. Find out more about when to use ice or heat.
  • C = Compression. Lightly wrap the muscle with an elastic bandage.
  • E = Elevation. Raise the affected limb to ease pressure and prevent blood from pooling.

Read more information about strain relief and recovery: 11 tips for lower back pain.

Easy Access to Muscle Strain Care at UnityPoint Health

UnityPoint Health makes it easy to get help for severe or stubborn muscle strain symptoms. You can find urgent care clinics with helpful, friendly staff in locations close to home.

For non-emergency situations, our clinics accept walk-in patients seven days a week. Experienced healthcare providers are available during the day, in the evenings and on holidays.

Our offerings also include UnityPoint Health Virtual Care and reserve your spot online for in-person urgent care visits.