What Are The Four Types Of Muscle Injuries?

- Article by John Miller

What Are The Four Muscle Injury Types?

Muscles are essential for movement and strength, and there are different types of muscle tissue in the body. The three main types are skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscles.

Cardiac muscle forms the walls of the heart and is responsible for its contraction. Smooth muscle tissue is found in the walls of hollow organs like the bladder and in passageways like the airway and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This article will focus on skeletal muscle injuries.

Skeletal Muscles

Skeletal muscles are the most common and are prone to injury. There are four types of skeletal muscle injuries:

  1. Muscle strain or soreness
  2. Muscle tear or rupture
  3. Muscle contusion or haematoma
  4. Rhabdomyolysis

Muscle Strain or Soreness

Muscle strain or soreness occurs when a muscle is stretched or pulled beyond its limits, resulting in microscopic tears in the muscle fibres. This injury is often caused by overuse or improper use of the muscle. Common types of muscle strains include hamstring, shoulder, neck, and lower back strains.

Muscle strains can lead to soreness, stiffness, weakness, swelling, and spasms. Fortunately, most muscle strains heal within a few days. To speed up the healing process, you can try ice therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, massage, and gentle stretching.

Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a type of muscle soreness that occurs after excessive or unaccustomed exercise, particularly if it involves an eccentric component. DOMS is caused by myofibril tears, which lead to an inflammatory response with fluid and electrolyte shifts within the muscle. Biochemical markers such as creatine kinase and lactic dehydrogenase can be found in the blood of DOMS sufferers, indicating muscle fibre disruption.

DOMS can cause swelling, altered muscle firing patterns, and pain, which can impair muscle strength, motion, and function. To alleviate DOMS, you can try gentle exercise, foam rolling, massage, and taking anti-inflammatory medications. It’s essential to gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts to prevent DOMS from occurring in the first place.

Muscle Tear or Rupture

A muscle tear or rupture is a more severe injury than a strain, as it involves a partial or complete tear of the muscle fibres. It can happen suddenly, during an activity that requires a lot of force or when the muscle is stretched beyond its limits.

Muscle fibres and the blood vessels that supply them tear. While a muscle strain refers to a microscopic injury to muscle fibres, a muscle tear is a more significant macroscopic injury. We can typically visualise the damaged fibres on an ultrasound scan or MRI. Like muscle strains, the most common muscle tears occur in the lower back, neck, shoulder, and hamstring. It typically takes substantial force to cause this type of injury.

Muscle tears usually cause a sudden onset of severe muscle pain, as well as bruising, weakness and swelling. Muscle tear sufferers should seek urgent medical attention to confirm the diagnosis and undertake a physiotherapist-guided rehabilitation to return to sport or work quicker, plus reduce the likelihood of re-injury. Patients with torn muscles also often require follow-up care and rehabilitation with physiotherapy.

The most severe extreme of a muscle tear is a complete rupture. Complete muscle rupture usually requires surgical repair and post-operative physiotherapy to optimise your return to function.

Muscle Contusion or Haematoma

A muscle contusion, also known as a haematoma, occurs when a direct blow to the muscle causes bleeding and bruising within the muscle tissue. This injury is commonly seen in contact sports or accidents.

Muscle contusions typically result from a blunt object striking the body and crushing underlying muscle tissue without breaking the skin. For example, being hit with a ball or accidentally kneed can cause a “corked thigh“. These injuries are painful, swollen, and weak, and can lead to reduced range of motion as a protection mechanism. Visible bruising results from damaged blood vessels that pool underneath the skin’s surface.

Mild contusion injuries can usually be treated with ice, rest, and time. However, more severe injuries may require surgical intervention to address excessive pressure accumulated from internal swelling and bleeding.

If you suspect a muscle contusion, it is essential to seek medical attention promptly to confirm the diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment. Physiotherapy may be necessary to aid in rehabilitation and prevent further injury. Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for treatment and recovery to ensure the best possible outcome.


Rhabdomyolysis is a rare but potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when muscle fibres break down and release their contents into the bloodstream, leading to kidney damage. It can result from extreme muscle exertion, trauma, or drug use.

Rhabdomyolysis is a severe condition that occurs when muscle fibres die, and their contents are released into the bloodstream. Normally, the kidneys filter out these muscle byproducts, but in rhabdomyolysis, kidney failure can result and be fatal. Urgent medical attention is required.

Common symptoms of rhabdomyolysis include muscle pain, weakness, and dark urine. The causes of rhabdomyolysis can be traumatic or non-traumatic. Examples of traumatic rhabdomyolysis include car accidents, crush injuries, or lying unconscious on a hard surface for an extended period. Causes of non-traumatic muscle injury include heatstroke, infections, intense exercise, seizures, and the use of certain recreational drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines.

If you experience any symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, it is crucial to seek urgent medical attention. Treatment may include intravenous fluids, medication to reduce swelling and prevent kidney damage, and dialysis in severe cases. Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for treatment and recovery to ensure the best possible outcome.

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