What is a sprain or strain in the back?

A lower back (lumbar) muscle strain occurs when muscle fibers stretch or tear. A lower back sprain occurs when ligaments in the back are torn from their attachments. Because of the function of the back (lifting objects, bending, etc.) it is prone to strains.

Causes of spine lower back sprains or strains

  • Sudden injury from a sudden twist or blow that forces the neck out of its normal position
  • Gradual overuse
  • Improper lifting of an object

Risk factors for lower back sprains or strains

  • Excessively curving the lower back
  • Excessive weight
  • Weak abdominal muscles
  • Tight hamstrings
  • Sports such as football and weightlifting

Symptoms of lower back sprains or strains

  • Pain in the lower back that could radiate into the buttocks (not the legs)
  • Decreased range of motion due to stiffness in the back
  • Stiffness in the back that makes maintaining posture difficult
  • Pain that lasts a maximum of 10 - 14 days
  • Muscle spasms at rest or with activity

Diagnosis of lower back sprains or strains

A back sprain or strain can be diagnosed in a full physical exam with your primary care doctor.

Your doctor will take a full medical history and determine how the injury occurred, what the symptoms are and what makes the symptoms worse.

Diagnostic testing is not typically necessary unless the pain has persisted longer than two weeks and is not improving. If pain persists long-term, your provider may order an x-ray or MRI to rule out other possible conditions.

Treatments for lower back sprains or strains

Although bed rest for one to three days is recommended for a moderate back strain or sprain, prolonged bed rest can lead to muscle degeneration and increased muscle stiffness. Other treatments for lower back sprains or strains:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Physical therapy or rehabilitation

Recovery from lower back sprains or strains

Most patients (more than 90%) completely recover from a lumbar (back) strain or sprain within a month. To treat future episodes of pain, treat with heat and ice in combination with anti-inflammatory medication. To ensure the condition does not become chronic, you must change the habits that lead to the problem.

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