Torn Muscle – Symptoms and Treatment

What Is a Torn Muscle?

Torn muscle or muscle strain refers to a partial or complete rupture of the fibers of the muscle, causing pain or inability to move a particular part of the body.


A torn muscle is often a result of a sudden unbalanced force acting on a particular muscle, which is beyond the normal capacity of the muscle, thus making it fall apart. This frequently occurs in athletics and outdoor sports. Untrained weightlifting, absence of warmup, blunt trauma, etc., are common factors leading to muscle tear.

Types of Muscle Tear

Depending on the amount of torn muscle, muscle tear can be:

  1. Pulled muscle or a first degree strain: only a small number of myofibrils are torn, resulting in a protective spasm of the affected muscle, and painful movement.
  2. Partially torn muscle or a second degree strain: a part of the muscle mass is torn, resulting in severe pain, weakness and spasm of the affected muscle, but movement is still possible.
  3. Completely torn muscle or a third degree strain: there is no continuity of muscle fibers, resulting in a complete loss of movement with antagonistic action, causing a fixed opposite movement (read explanation below). The torn muscle retracts itself and can be felt like a rolled up ball beneath the skin.

Basic Muscle Anatomy and Biomechanics

Each muscle consists of multiple muscle bundles (fascicles), containing muscle cells or fibers. Each fiber contains several myofibrils, and this from several myofilaments, which can contract or relax, depending on the type of signal given by the brain.

The muscles are grouped into the ones that bring about a particular action and the ones that do the opposite action. It is the balanced action of the opposing muscles that brings about smooth movement of the body parts. In the absence of this antagonistic action of muscles, the concerned part either becomes fixed or shows jerky movements, like that of a robot.

For example, the movement at the knee joint is controlled by opposing action of quadriceps muscles at the front of the thigh and hamstrings at the back of the thigh (Picture 1 and 2).

Quadriceps Muscle

Picture 1: Quadriceps Muscles
(source: Wikimedia)

Hamstring Muscles

Picture 2: Hamstring Muscles
(source: Wikimedia)

Now, if there is an injury to the hamstrings, the knee will remain straight due to unopposed action of the quadriceps. If the knee is forcibly bent, then as soon as the force is released it will again straighten suddenly like a clasp-knife. This is due to the tone of the normal musculature which becomes exaggerated due to absence of an antagonistic action.

Common Sites of Muscle Tear

Though muscle tear can occur at any site, yet there are a few sites where muscle tears are frequently encountered:

1) Torn biceps muscle – Popeye’s muscle

Picture of torn biceps muscle

2) Torn finger extensor muscle: Mallet finger

torn muscle - mallet finger

Picture 3: Mallet finger
(source: Wikimedia)

3) Torn calf muscle

4) Torn shoulder muscle: rotator cuff injury (supraspinatus or infraspinatus muscle tear)


Depending on the severity of a muscle tear, an urgency and duration of treatment changes.

A pulled muscle or a first degree tear can be easily treated at home with cold compresses and rest for a week, followed by progressive mobilization.

A partially torn muscle is better treated by at least a primary care physician, who can assess the severity of the tear and decide upon a conservative or surgical treatment. Investigations, like X-rays, ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be necessary for the assessment. Untreated partial tear can lead to a complete muscle tear, if neglected.

A complete muscle tear should always be treated by an experienced surgeon, as it always requires operative management. The earlier the operation, the better results, because as time passes, more and more muscle tissue becomes dead. Delay in a surgery leads to progressive fibrosis (scarring) of the injured muscle, making it functionally useless. Hence a complete muscle tear should be taken as an emergency, and prompt hospitalization is a must.

Rehabilitation and Prognosis

If promptly recognized and treated, a torn muscle heals much better than any other tissue of the body. Functional impairment from a torn muscle is temporary, and patients can resume their daily activities within a week even after operative management. However, caution must be excised regarding excessive strain on the affected muscle for 2-3 months to allow the muscle tissue to heal completely. Progressive physiotherapy in the form of range of motion, isometric, and isotonic exercises should be started to prevent shortening or weakening of the affected muscle due to prolonged immobilization.

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About Dr Gauresh (69 Articles)
An orthopedic surgeon trained in JJ Group of Hospitals and Grant Medical College. I have worked in this field for the past 3 years and have significant clinical experience to guide students and patients on any topic in orthopedics.

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  • Eddiegirl

    I got hurt in the 80’s,the muscle in my arm got tore,which left a hugh lump under my skin.I have fallen several times in the last 4-5 years,tearing more muscles in that area of the old injury.I just hurt myself again,tearing more&now my arm hurts down it&into myhand.I am on medical leave,I hope to get Disability.This is so bad.It hurts more now than ever before.The Dr said it was a pulled legament,she said would settle down.I disagree with her.I believe the muscle tore more.I feel like I have carpal tunnel like I use to when I used my arm to much, rest it and it’d get better.Now it is a different story.There is no surgery for me.I don’t feel I can work as a cashier anymore after this medical leave is over.My gut feeling is to apply for Disability Social Security, but I am waiting for the Doctor to advice or guidance.
    The hugh ball under my skin is larger, so that tells me more muscle tore.I am scared.Since I have dealt with this for so long, I do not want surgery.

    • Dr Gauresh

      Well firstly u should understand that a carpal tunnel is completely unrelated to ur symptoms. secondly if you feel that your muscle is torn you should get urself examined by a physiotherapist who would do a muscle charting and refer your case to the orthopedist. If the muscle charting is normal then you should consider the earlier orthopedist’s opinion. The ball of muscle which u percieve as torn muscle can be just subcutaneous fat which has increased because of ur medical leave and absence of daily work.

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  • Twisted my leg months ago got up and could not stand on leg for a few days thought it would heal on its own six months later I’m in alot of pain in leg it feels stiff and not flexiable side of calf seems to sink in abit but the pain is there wheather i’m in bed or on it help please.

    • Dr Gauresh

      Normally twisting leads to ligament tears and not muscular injury. So if the pain is in the ankle you mostly have ligament injury or even a small fracture of the ankle. Whatever the case u need to visit your orthopedist urgently for evaluation with x-ray and USG (incase of a calf muscle tear which is highly unlikely by your description)

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  • sathyaraj

    I heard this popping, and the pain is exactly at the calf muscle.My foot,ankle or other parts has no pain,and no swell.Its already two days,but the pain remains at the spot and I walk on the limb,is this serious

    • Dr Gauresh

      If u have had some traumatic incident when that popping took place then there is a decent chance that your calf muscle was injured. And if it is painful since 2 days why not get yourself examined by an orthopedic surgeon or at least get a USG of the calf done.

  • roger david

    Hi doctor,Im Roger(age 22) from Mumbai,India.I used to overtrain my body muscles.Due to which my muscles have become very hard now overtime.Everytime i excercised,it became more hard.Just after 10mins of workout,my muscle group was as hard as rock.Thatswhy i stopped going to gym.It has been 4 yrs that i have stopped going 2 gym.But i still love muscle sumtimes i try lifting some house-hold weights to check if that problem is over;but 2 my disappointment its still there.This is the case with all of my body parts like shoulder,biceps,triceps,calves,etc.Im very disappointed bcz of this.I had been to a doctor once regarding this….but i couldnt make him understand what exactly is wrong with me.So he just gave some calcium pills which was of no use.Sir if u r listening,plz help me out in atleast finding out what is wrong with me

    • Dr Gauresh

      hi roger,
      it may seem that you have some problem with excessive muscle tone. Ideally, I would have referred you to a neurologist, who would be able to solve your problem. But a short solution would be to use muscle relaxants, like myoril, etc. If that doesnt improve your problem within a week of treatment then consult a neurologist for sure.

  • mjstonework122

    Hi doc, So i was wakeboarding on a railslide when i fell and i hit my leg/but on one of the 4×6 posts under the rail. i believe i was traveling about 19 mph before i hit it. The trauma site feels mushy and i can not tell if the muscle is even there. it feels as if the muscle is torn in that location with bunching all around it. Also the trauma site is oval shaped with no bruising in the middle about 7” x 3 ” and surrounded by severe bruising. I was checked out by my doc and he thinks its going to heal on its own but i have no insurance and i’m worried he’s just saying that because he knows it would take me forever to pay off an MRI scan or any other extra extensive treatment..i can walk fairly well and there doesn’t seem to be a full tear of any muscle group but i feel as if i’m unstable and could easily loose my balance. my question is does this sound like something that may need surgery or should i trust my doc and just wait it out.

    • Hi MJStonework, You do not mention when this happened so I will assume it is fairly recently, like within the past month at the most. A wait and watch approach is sometimes advisable if you still have complete movement and muscle control in the affected area.

      Of course, further diagnostic investigation like an MRI may be advisable (especially at the time of the injury), not just for the muscle issue but to evaluate any further injury that may have occurred. However, if indeed more than a month has passed and no new symptoms have arisen then it is unlikely for there to have been further injury or it would have become evident by now.

      It is difficult to say just how extensive the injury is and whether it will require surgery just by the information through an online platform. A face-to-face consultation with a doctor and physical examination is necessary. The fact that you still feel a bit shaky is not entirely unexpected if the injury is fair recent but further evaluation would be recommended. It would be advisable to also consult with a physical therapist in the mean time.