Most strains you get day-to-day or doing recreational sport are mild to moderate, and they tend to heal really well on their own. If it’s just a little bit sore with some swelling, give it a few days’ rest then get back to your daily routine – not necessarily running, if that’s how you sprained it, but the sooner you start the rehab process by using the muscle again, the better.
If it was a calf injury, for example, two days later you might start doing some calf raises – just raising your heel off the floor from standing or sitting. The NHS website has resources for strengthening exercises that are generally reliable. Within two weeks, you would probably be back to full strength.
If it’s very painful, and especially if there’s bruising, seek advice from a physiotherapist or your GP, who can give you specific exercises.
With a moderate strain, some of the muscle fibres have torn a little bit and you might not expect to get back to sport, for example, until 21 or 28 days later.
There is no harm in using ice to distract from the pain – just put it into a damp wet cloth, not directly on to the skin. Elevation and compression will help more with swelling. The most severe “grade three” strain is where the fibre has completely torn. You would normally feel a pop in that situation – it might even be audible. Though it may not be as painful as a moderate strain, you would know that it was serious because you would lose some ability to use that muscle, and might need to undergo surgery – but grade three strains are really rare. If it is moderate or severe, it is worth getting a diagnosis from a physio so that they can set you on the path to rehab. The key thing is to understand what you have done in the first place – if you self-diagnose and then go to the internet, you could make it worse for yourself.
Ashley James is a physiotherapist and spokesman for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy