What is low back strain?
A series of muscles and ligaments in your back hold the bones of your spinal column in place. You can strain these muscles by stretching them too far, causing tiny tears in the tissue. The muscles are then weakened, so they may not be able to hold the bones of your spinal column in place correctly. The spine becomes less stable, causing low back pain.
There are two common types of lower back strain:
- A muscle strain happens when the muscle is over-stretched or torn, resulting in damage to the muscle fibers (also called a pulled muscle).
- A lumbar sprain happens when ligaments are stretched too far or torn. Ligaments are very tough, fibrous connecting tissues that connect bones together.
How common is low back strain?
Low back strain is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of low back strain?
The common symptoms of low back strain are:
- Low back pain that may radiate into the buttocks, but does not affect the legs
- Stiffness in the low back area, restricting range of motion
- Inability to maintain normal posture due to stiffness and/or pain
- Muscle spasms either with activity, or at rest
- Pain that persists for a maximum of 10-14 days
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
Since some symptoms of low back strain are similar to those of more serious conditions, it’s important to get checked out by a doctor. Any numbness and weakness in your legs, or bowel and bladder problems, can be a sign of nerve damage — and that needs immediate medical attention.
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes low back strain?
Low back strain can be caused by:
- Extreme physical exertion.
- Bending or crouching repeatedly.
- Lifting heavy objects if you are not in shape.
What increases my risk for low back strain?
There are many risk factors for low back strain, such as:
- Back pain is more common as you get older, starting around age 30 or 40.
- Lack of exercise. Weak, unused muscles in your back might lead to back pain.
- Excess weight. Carrying too much weight puts extra stress on your back.
- Some types of arthritis and cancer can contribute to back pain.
- Improper lifting. Using your back instead of your legs can lead to back pain.
- Psychological conditions. People prone to depression and anxiety appear to have a greater risk of back pain.
- This can keep your body from delivering enough nutrients to the disks in your back.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is low back strain diagnosed?
Diagnostic testing is usually not necessary, unless pain has been present for more than two weeks and has not improved as expected. It is important to rule out underlying causes such as an undetected disc injury. If symptoms are persistent, the following tests may be ordered by your doctor.
- X-ray: Application of radiation to produce a film or picture of a part of the body can show the structure of the vertebrae and the outline of the joints. X-rays of the spine are obtained to search for other potential causes of pain, i.e. tumors, infections, fractures, etc.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A diagnostic test that produces three-dimensional images of body structures using powerful magnets and computer technology; can show the spinal cord, nerve roots, and surrounding areas, as well as enlargement, degeneration, and tumors.
How is low back strain treated?
Bed rest is recommended for a short period of time, usually from one to three days. This should be as brief as possible, as prolonged bed rest can lead to a loss of muscle strength, and may increase muscle stiffness, adding to pain and discomfort. Sprain and strain is commonly treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication if the pain is mild to moderate.
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy. The therapist will perform an in-depth evaluation; which combined with the doctor’s diagnosis, will dictate a treatment specifically designed for patients with low back pain. Therapy may include pelvic traction, gentle massage, ice and heat therapy, ultrasound, electrical muscle stimulation, and stretching exercises. Pain medication and muscle relaxants may also be beneficial in conjunction with the physical therapy.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage low back strain?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with low back strain:
- Ice your back to reduce pain and swelling as soon as you injure yourself. Do it for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days. You can also ice your back after physical activity.
- Apply heat to your back — but only after 2-3 days of icing it first. Use heat on your back only after the initial swelling has gone down. You could use an electric heating pad or a hot water bottle. Or you could just soak in a hot bath.
- Take painkillers or other drugs, if recommended by your doctor. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin, will help with lower back pain and swelling. However, these drugs may have side effects. They should be used only occasionally, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise. Prescription painkillers and muscle relaxants are sometimes necessary.
- Use support. Ask your doctor or therapist first, but consider getting a belt or girdle to add support to your back. Use it only short-term or for support with heavy or repetitive lifting.
- Get physical therapy to build up strength, if your doctor recommends it. Do not stay in bed or on the couch all day. That will make it worse.
- Maintain good muscle tone in your abdominal and lower back muscles.
Here are some tips to help you avoid low back strain:
- If you feel any low back pain during physical activity, stop.
- If you feel low back pain within a day of stepping up your workout, take it easy for a few days.
- Get your back in shape. Exercise and stretch your back muscles regularly.
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach. Sleep on your back or your side, and wedge a pillow under or beneath your legs.
- When picking up something heavy, bend at the knees, not at the waist.
- Lose weight if you are overweight.
- Adopt good posture. Sit straight in chairs, with your back against the chair’s back.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: June 25, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019
- low back strainand Sprain. http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Low%20Back%20Strain%20and%20Sprain.aspx. Accessed 15 Jan 2017
- low back strain. http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/guide/low-back-strain. Accessed 15 Jan 2017
- Back pain. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/basics/definition/con-20020797. Accessed 15 Jan 2017