When to Go to Urgent Care for Muscle Strains

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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 following areas:

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

If you’ve pulled a muscle, you're 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,” he adds.

You may want to consider going to urgent care if:

  • Pain isn’t going away after a few days or 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 have numbness or tingling
  • You can't move the area
  • Pain radiates down the arms or legs
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers don't help 

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're 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 evaluation and diagnosis, you can always visit a UnityPoint Health Urgent Care. Urgent care providers treat patients of all ages, including adolescents and older adults. They can help you get to the source of the pain and recommend therapies that bring relief.

Preparing for Your Urgent Care Visit

First, reduce your time in the waiting room by saving your spot online. When you arrive, your provider will ask questions about your symptoms and what may have caused the strain. You’ll also receive a thorough physical exam to determine the strain’s location and severity. This information informs the next steps of your care.

We may ask you to explain:

  • The circumstances that may have caused you to pull a muscle
  • What your symptoms feel like
  • How your symptoms affect your ability to move and complete daily tasks
  • Whether you've 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. 

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. Our experienced care teams are available during the day, in the evenings and on holidays.