Back muscles can become strained or sprained, and nerves can become pinched when these muscles tighten up. This results in a very painful situation where you may have difficulty doing everyday tasks and even sitting down. The lower back, especially, is at risk for these injuries.
A strain can occur to a muscle or tendon. The tendons are tough and fibrous, but they can be overextended. When the back is strained, the tendons and muscles that support the spine are torn, pulled, or twisted. This can be extremely painful and debilitating.
A back sprain occurs when a ligament, a fibrous band of tissue that connects bones at the joints, is stretched or torn. If a joint is moved in an unnatural direction or stretched in any way, a painful injury can occur. Sometimes surgery can be required to fix a torn ligament.
Symptoms of Back Strains and Sprains
You know you most likely strained or sprained your back if any of the following are true:
- The pain gets worse with movement.
- Your range of motion is compromised in any way.
- You have difficulty walking, bending over, or standing up straight.
- Your muscles cramp or contract uncontrollably.
- A pop or tear was felt at the time the injury occurred.
Causes of Back Strains and Sprains
Strains are caused by pulling a tendon or muscle, which can happen due to improper lifting and twisting. It can also be caused by chronic strain from repetitive movement of the tendons and muscles. One wrong move can cause a strain.
A sprain is the cause of falls, sudden twisting, or a hit to the body that forces a joint out of place. The ligaments are stretched beyond their intended capabilities, causing a sprain or tear. Excessive curving of the lower back, being overweight, having weak abdominal muscles, and a weak back make people more susceptible to sprains and strains. This is why back problems are among the most common injuries.
Back Strain and Sprain Diagnosis and Treatment
Medical history, information about the method of injury, and a physical examination can diagnose the problem. An x-ray may be taken to make sure there isn’t a herniated disc. Treatment involves reducing the pain. If the muscle is in spasm, the spasm will need to be relieved. Rest and ice packs can help with this within the first 24 to 48 hours of the injury. Ibuprofen is also frequently used.
After 24 to 48 hours, it is advised to return to normal activities as they can be tolerated. Prolonged mobility or bedrest can delay recovery. Nonetheless, most back strains and sprains resolve themselves within two weeks. If the symptoms last longer than two weeks, more treatment may be needed. It is possible for complications to come about, which is why it is important to immediately seek medical attention to avoid further injury to the area.
You are at higher risk for strains and sprains if you have injured your back several times before, you have muscle weakness, or there is a lump or unusual shape anywhere in your spine. If you start having difficulty walking, experience numbness in your leg, or you have pain that interferes with sleep, seek medical attention as soon as possible.