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Differences Between a Pulled Muscle and a Pinched Nerve

Pulled Muscle vd Pinched Nerve

If you’re a gym buff, an experienced athlete, or simply love outdoor activities, you’ve surely encountered an injury or two that caused intense pain and discomfort. Rather than slapping on the usual painkiller patch or ingesting Paracetamol to ease the pain and calm your nerves, you should learn more about the nature of your injury so that you know the exact remedy as well as how to avoid it in the future. Pulled muscles and pinched nerves are two afflictions that people interchange often because they both occur after a strenuous workout or during a high-intensity, outdoor game. The first step to diagnosing your ailment is checking the affected area and gauging the level of pain you’re currently experiencing.

A pulled muscle swells immediately and can be very tender to the touch. It occurs in major muscle areas such as the back, chest, and shoulders. A stretched muscle occurs when you overextend a muscle or group of muscles too much, causing small fibers to tear. It emits a dull pain that doesn’t spread further down the body. On the other hand, a pinched nerve occurs when tissues in a certain area are pressured too much, squeezing the nerve underneath and causing pain to radiate and travel along the length of the nerve. A pinched nerve can also cause a tingling sensation that escalates into raw pain for a few minutes. A pinched nerve does not usually show up on the skin unlike the swelling of a stretched muscle.

As mentioned earlier, pulled muscles commonly occur among compound muscle groups such as the chest, back, shoulder, and legs, but they can also occur among small muscle groups such as the biceps and triceps. People who work out using a wrong or inefficient position, or who simply work out too much are prone to pulled muscles. On the other hand, people who lie down on the sofa or the bed with their arm underneath themselves or their legs at an awkward position can get a pinched nerve easily. Any part of the body that has received the application of pressure for a long duration can develop a pinched nerve.

A pinched nerve is easier to get than a pulled muscle. After all, as the name implies, it’s easy to have a nerve pinched in any part of your body. Aside from awkward positions, pinched nerves can also develop if you don’t shift body positions when you’re sitting or lying down for long periods. Crossing your legs for a long time is one of the common triggers of a pinched nerve. A pulled muscle can’t occur without strenuous activity that causes you to overextend your muscles. Simply lying down or walking around won’t cause you to stretch a muscle. The most common way to get a stretched muscle is by either sprinting or running at a constant pace for a long time. Beginners who adopt a jogging or running routine usually experience a stretched muscle as a throb in their side, a dull pain that discourages continuation of the current activity.

Both stretched muscles and pinched nerves can be cured by first aid. Apply ice to the area to reduce any swelling and then warm compresses to the affected area and gently do stretching exercises. If the pain is too intense, lie down for a while and adopt a comfortable position while first applying ice and then a warm compress. You can also take painkillers. But if the pain persists after a day or two, it’s best to see a doctor. Pinched nerves clear up sooner than stretched muscles.


Pulled muscles occur after strenuous activity. They may be caused by an incorrect posture during working out at the gym, or caused by overextended muscles after a long, outdoor activity. A pinched nerve happens when tissues receiving too much pressure choke the nerve underneath and causing it to emit a pain signal that radiates along its length. It can happen while you’re sitting or lying down.

It’s easier to get a pinched nerve than a pulled muscle. You can get a pinched nerve even without strenuous activity. Adopting an awkward position, such as crossing your legs for a long time, is the most common cause of pinched nerves.

First aid can provide a remedy to both pulled muscles and pinched nerves via application of ice and then warm compresses. The pain of a pulled muscle can last for several days while pinched nerve pain usually clears up quickly.

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  1. I disagree with your last statement. “The pain of a pulled muscle can last for several days while pinched nerve pain usually clears up quickly.” A pinched nerve can take months to heal. Mine took 6!

    • glad to know. Im on day 5. terrible pain that moves from neck to shoulder to bicep area. but feels just like a nerve then a pulled muscle, like over reaching on your back to reach a itchy spot. but the pain form the nerve is much worst then i ever delt with. keeps moving around to different spots. but all from lower neck to bicepts area…. No Health Insurance, but also no injury to cause it, just woke up from sleeping the wrong way, and decided to over work some exercises trying to workout the neck-kink and now ive really done something to my self…

    • Serrriousssly…

      I disagree as well..my pinched nerve is going on 2 1/2 weeks..its on the right side of my lower back feels like on top of rib..lat area..i can’t focus ..hurts when i drive ..can’t sit straiggt for too long and my posture has always been good from ballet.. it’s making me crazy because i can’t workout. I’ve done the ice and warm compresses..now what? hellllp…

    • i concur!

    • Yes indeed!!! It took my pinched nerve 5 months to heal. And crazy thing is I pulled a hamstring during the same accident and it healed up in a week.

  2. Very poor information given in this article.
    I have just finished my second cervical spine steroid injection for a pinched nerve. However the problem traces further back. The nerve is pinched from a bulging disk, the bulging disk is caused by mis aligned/compressed vertabrae, that mis alignment is caused by degeneration of my spine with arthritic nodules.
    This is the basis of my opinon on the poor information given above.

    • Tami, I have the same problem my nerves were misaligned after I had a muscle pull in 2010 and have been suffering ever since. Have seen many doctors but no one has correctly diagnoised the problem. Can you suggest me what sort of tests U should undergo for right diagnosis. Btw the problem is in my neck and shoulders. Thank you, Chandan.

      • S pinched nerve can be diagnosed by CT scan they put dye in your iv to see contrast. Its very effective in diagnosis also what called a myelogram wich is very uncomfortable.
        Hope this helps!

    • Hi Tami, can you please let me know about the effects of steriod injection for pick nerve please.
      I have very mild herniated disc, and the doctor recommend steroid injection , I am scared.

  3. I’m sorry but reading the comments makes me feel compelled to interject. As someone who has had two spinal fusions I want to remind the other commenters that CONTEXT to your situation is important. Just because you personally have a slipped disk or spondylolisthesis (as in my case), does not mean the information given here isn’t correct. Strenuous exercise, poor posture, a variety of things mentioned in this article can indeed cause nerve pain and are usually (key word) the culprit. ONCE THE NERVE THAT IS PINCHED IS NO LONGER PINCHED, it USUALLY (key word) doesn’t take long for it to recover. However, if your nerves have been pinched for years because of something UNusual like scoliosis or a back injury or something that required surgical intervention, OF COURSE it’s going to take longer for those nerves to recover, IF THEY ARE EVEN REPAIRABLE. Permenantly damaged nerves suck but if you have them that doesn’t mean everyone else does.
    I used this page to show my boyfriend (who has anxiety about his health) that all he did was pull a muscle in his leg as we had spent several hours at the beach the other day and walked about 5kil., and that the intense, sharp, pinching pain in his pulled MUSCLE he is feeling can be remedied easily.
    These comments were disappointing to read. Other commenters, your personal anecdotes of not-so-common experiences that induce nerve pain do NOT represent the majority and it does NOT help with how many people freak out over googling their symptoms and automatically start thinking they have cancer and feeding that hypochondria.

    • Agreed

    • I also have spondylenthesis. Very hard to deal with. I can go months with no pain then all of a sudden I am racked with pain. Have had it probly most of my life. They didn’t find it till I was in early 30’s. The episodes are getting closer together as I age.

  4. Very true Amanda! Pulled muscles and pinched nerves can be common when someone is active.
    In some cases as in the article a pinched nerve can occur from almost anything… I am a professional dancer that has had both.

    If you have other problems that stem from a deeper rooted injury or genetics that is different.

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