Self Assessment: Muscle and Tendon Strains

By Rich Baudry, PT, DPT, OCS

We recently received an inquiry asking how to tell if you have pulled a muscle or torn a tendon without having to undergo an MRI.

First of all, let me begin with a basic description of the relationship between muscles, tendons and joints. Tendons attach muscles to the bones. A muscle/tendon unit crosses a joint to enable movement around the joint. Contraction of a muscle pulls on the bone through it’s tendon in order to create movement of a joint. As such, when someone suffers a muscle or tendon tear they will have difficulty generating pull or force to move the joint.

When an injury occurs to a muscle or tendon, pain will be felt when it is stretched and/or when resistance is applied to that structure. When stretching and resisted testing elicits pain in the tested muscle/tendon unit, you most likely have suffered an injury to the involved muscle or tendon. The severity of the injury will be known by how much pain and weakness are noted with testing. If you have no ability to resist or contract a certain muscle action you may have a complete rupture of a tendon.

If you have pain in or around a joint that hurts when you are in certain positions but does not necessarily hurt with resistance to the muscle, you may have a joint, ligament, or other structural problem.

This understanding of muscle and tendon testing can be applied to muscles throughout the body. However, please note that this is an over simplified example of muscle/tendon testing. If you think you have had a muscle/tendon injury–or any other injury–you should  have it checked by a medical professional early on. Your medical professional will be able to clearly identify the source of the injury and establish an action plan to promote a speedy recovery. When taken care of promptly, most muscle/tendon injuries respond well, getting you back in the game quickly.

Conversely, while waiting it out sometimes works, it often delays healing and leads to unnecessary residual limitations that can come back to haunt you later on. These limitations become harder to treat and take care of the longer it goes unattended. So be sure to treat your injuries as soon as possible in order to avoid long-term consequences.

Thanks so much for your questions. We value your feedback and please keep them coming!