(NewsUSA) – One wrong move, and suddenly the back of your leg hurts and begins to swell. Unfortunately, you’ve probably strained a muscle. But how do you know how bad the strain is? Should you see a doctor?

Strains — or injuries to the muscle and tendons — occur when a muscle is stretched and then forced to contract. There are three types of strains: In Grade I strains, the muscle is stretched or lightly torn; in Grade II the muscle is torn but still intact; in Grade III, the muscle is completely torn.

The severity of the symptoms depends on the grade of the strain, but most strains involve some degree of pain, weakness and immobility. While most Grade I strains can be treated at home, Grade II strains may require physical therapy, and Grade III strains often require surgical correction.

It can be difficult to tell a muscle strain from a broken bone, so it’s generally recommended that you go to a doctor. At the very least, a doctor can determine the extent of your injury and whether or not you need rehabilitation or time off from work. You should visit a doctor immediately if your experience any of the following: you can’t put weight on the injured area; you can’t move a joint; your limb buckles when you try to use it; you experience numbness; you see red streaks spreading from the area; you injure an area that’s been injured before.

Provided that you only have a minor strain, you should follow the RICE treatment plan, in which RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. Avoid using the injured limb because your body needs to rest to heal. Apply ice for short-term pain relief and swelling reduction. Compression, in the form of elastic bandages, also helps to limit swelling, as does elevating the limb. You can also take a mild pain reliever, like ibuprofen.

After 24 hours have passed, you can start using heat to keep muscles from tightening. You might also want to apply a product such as Absorbine Jr. (www.absorbinejr.com), which uses natural menthol and herbal extracts to help speed recovery. The liquid pain reliever creates a penetrating warmth to sooth sore muscles, aching joints, arthritis and back and foot pain.