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Definition

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.

And because nerves stretch out from the spinal cord throughout the entire body, low back strain can cause pain in areas other than your back.

How common is low back strain?

Low back strain is extremely common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of low back strain?

The common symptoms of low back strain are:

  • Pain and stiffness in the back.
  • Pain in the buttocks and the legs, often in the back of the thigh.
  • Pain that worsens when bending, stretching, coughing, or sneezing.

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.

Causes

What causes low back strain?

Low back strain can be caused by:

  • Extreme physical exertion.
  • Falling
  • Bending or crouching repeatedly.
  • Lifting heavy objects if you are not in shape.

It can also be caused by emotional stress, improper posture, being overweight, out of shape, or sitting in the same position for long periods of time. Even a severe cough can result in low back strain.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for low back strain?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

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?

Collecting a medical history and conducting a physical exam are usually sufficient to diagnose muscle strain in the lower back.

  • A medical history includes information about current symptoms, as well as when and how symptoms began, such as whether pain began after an injury, came on suddenly, or has gotten progressively worse. A medical history also includes information about typical exercise levels, sleep habits, and past medical issues.
  • A physical exam tests for range-of-motion and flexibility in the low back, as well as in the hip, pelvic, or hamstring muscles. Feeling along the lower back (called palpation) can detect spinal abnormalities that may be the source of pain. Nerve root irritation may also be tested by using a leg raise test, which can rule out injuries such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.

While an imaging test such as an x-ray or MRI scan is rarely needed for a muscle injury, one may be used to check for other possible pain sources, such as a fracture or herniated disc, if those conditions are suspected. In patients with a history of malignancy or trauma, imaging tests are usually needed prior to conservative exercises. Typically, x-rays are taken first and then an MRI is ordered if anything suspicious is seen on the x-rays.

How is low back strain treated?

Low back strain can be a painful and depressing injury. But the good news is that most cases heal on their own, given time. To speed the healing, you should:

  • 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.

No matter what people tell you, bed rest doesn’t work. People used to think that the best treatment for low back strain was to lie on your back until you felt better. But studies show it doesn’t help. In fact, after taking it easy for a day or two, you should usually start light physical activity.

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:

Whatever you do, don’t rush things. Don’t try to return to your previous level of physical activity until:

  • You can move as easily — without stiffness — as you did before your injury.
  • You feel no pain when you bend, twist, walk, run, and jump.

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.

Sources

Review Date: November 8, 2017 | Last Modified: November 8, 2017

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