Muscle strains are among the most prevalent causes for athletes’ absence from sport activities. Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) has recently emerged as a potential contender to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in muscle strain treatment. In this work we investigated effects of LLLT and diclofenac on functional outcomes in the acute stage after muscle strain injury in rats. Muscle strain was induced by overloading the tibialis anterior muscle of rats during anesthesia. The injured groups received either no treatment, or a single treatment with diclofenac 30 min prior to injury, or LLLT (810 nm, 100 mW) with doses of 1, 3, 6 or 9 J, at 1 h after injury. Functional outcome measures included a walking index and assessment of electrically induced muscle performance. All treatments (except 9 J LLLT) significantly improved the walking index 12 h postinjury compared with the untreated group. The 3 J group also showed a significantly better walking index than the drug group. All treatments significantly improved muscle performance at 6 and 12 h. LLLT dose of 3 J was as effective as the pharmacological agent in improving functional outcomes in the early phase after a muscle strain injury in rats.