How To Deal With Low Back Strains And Sprains

It can happen at any moment. A simple twist or a jerk in the wrong direction and an excruciating pain shoots up your lower back. Low back sprains and strains can happen to anyone, at any time, and often without any warning.


What Are Low Back Strains And Sprains


When it comes to low back pain, sprains and strains are two of the most common causes of this condition. The lower back supports the full weight of the upper body and is responsible for supporting movements like bending and twisting. This makes it particularly vulnerable to injury.


A healthy back has strong supporting muscles that help to hold the spine, vertebrae and ligaments together and keep it flexible. But excess wear and tear (often due to the hefty everyday demands that we place on our bodies) can cause stretching or tears in the ligaments. These stretches and tears can weaken the muscles, making them less able to fully support the spinal column, and can lead to low back pain.



There are two common types of soft tissue injuries in the low back:

  • Muscle strain — when the fibers in the muscles tear (commonly known as a pulled muscle)

  • Lumbar sprain — when the ligaments that connect the vertebrae become overstretched or torn.

Typically both of these injuries have the same symptoms and receive the same treatment, so it doesn’t really matter what the actual specific diagnosis is. In this article we will talk mostly about low back sprains, but the information also applies to low back strains.



Causes Of A Sprain


A sprain can happen at any time. Whether you are someone who does a lot of repetitive physical movements, like bending or lifting; or whether you are someone who is less active. If you suddenly have to shovel snow off the sidewalk, do some spring cleaning, or simply pick up a heavy box, muscles that aren’t used regularly may be weak and can respond badly to these unexpected movements. Some of the most common causes of sprains and strains are :

  • Improper lifting of heavy objects

  • Falling

  • Bending

  • Poor posture

Sprains can also occur when the following are present:

  • Emotional stress

  • Being overweight

  • Severe coughing

  • Extended periods of sitting with poor posture



Symptoms of Lower Back Strains and Sprains:


If you are experiencing any of the following, you might have a low back strain or sprain:

  • Trouble bending over

  • Trouble sitting up straight

  • Muscle spasms

  • Pain on one specific side

  • Broad pain across your whole back

  • Pain when standing for a long time

  • Localized tenderness in low back muscles specifically

  • Pain that gets worse when moving

  • Difficulty walking

  • Swelling and inflammation of low back muscles

  • Pain relief when resting or reclining

  • Muscles that feel sore, tight, or achy

  • Intense pain that lasts a few hours or a few days

  • Moderate pain and stiffness that lasts 1–2 weeks



Treatment Of Low Back Strains and Sprains:


Fortunately, when it comes to diagnosis and treatment, low back strains and sprains are fairly straightforward. Typically, diagnostic imaging is not required and symptoms will usually resolve themselves within 4–6 weeks. To help the healing process, or to reduce painful symptoms, some common treatments for low back sprains include the following:

  • Heat/ice packs (hot water bottles, heating pads, hot baths)

  • Improve/maintain core muscle strength

  • Exercise

  • Support belts/back braces

  • NSAIDs and other over the counter painkillers (not preferred as first choice treatment)

  • Stay active

  • Avoid bed rest

  • Massage



The Importance Of Staying Active


Staying moderately active is extremely important. There is still a big misconception that rest is good for low back pain. Rest is good for other types of strains and sprains, but when it comes to back muscles, the data shows that returning to normal activity (or almost normal) is one of the most helpful things you can do to prevent further increases in pain and decreases in mobility. Of course, if the reason you were injured in the first place is due to a workplace injury, it might be best to not perform that specific task for a while. Discernment is key.



Other Types Of Injuries To Look Out For


Keep in mind that while strains and sprains are some of the most common low back injuries, not all low back pain is caused by these conditions. Fractures, arthritis, pinched nerves and slipped discs are other conditions known to cause low back pain. Also, if you have incurred a more severe injury, like a complete tear, then potentially, it could take months for the muscle to heal completely.


If your low back pain lasts longer than one to two weeks, you should definitely make an appointment with your primary care physician and seek further medical care. You should also seek immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms are present in addition to your back pain:

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Unexplained fever (higher than 100.4F or 38.0C)

  • Loss of control of your bowels or bladder

If you are worried about your low back pain you can also read our blog on When Should I Worry About Low Back Pain for more conditions that are often linked with low back pain.



Caring For Your Lower Back


Our backs do so much for us that it is no wonder that, from time to time, they may need a little extra care. Taking time to work on keeping your core muscles strong can help to support your spine and can help to prevent future low back injuries. There are also simple tips and tricks that you can add to your routine to help prevent low back pain flare ups. Check out our blog on What To Do When Your Back Seizes Up At Work for some ideas on how to help prevent low back pain in the workplace.


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