A “thrown out back” is a figure of speech used by people to describe sudden, intense, and sharp pain experienced in their back when the back muscles have been strained. Acute back pain can be very unpleasant and debilitating, keeping people away from their normal activities. A thrown out back comes about quickly and is usually triggered by activities, such as gardening, shoveling, working out intensely, or bending over to pick something up off the floor. Most cases of thrown out backs are the result of wear and tear in the muscles, joints and discs, and the bones that make up the spine.
A thrown out back is a common occurrence that requires avoiding walking as much as possible and resting as the best way to manage pain and prevent further injury for at least a couple of days or until the symptoms improve.
If the sudden acute back pain does not get better within 24 hours or if other symptoms, such as fever, numbness, and progressive weakness, are experienced along with severe pain, one should see a doctor.
What causes a thrown out back?
Some of the common activities that cause a thrown out back include:
- Lifting a very heavy object incorrectly
- Overworking or stretching the back too far to reach something
- Bad posture or body mechanics when lifting
- Repetitive movements
- Sports injury
- Sudden fall or slipping on something
- Twisting the back
- Twisting while picking something up off the ground
- Bending forward in an uncomfortable position
- Intense weight-training workout
The above activities can cause strain to the structures supporting the back, such as connective tissues, ligaments, muscles, and vertebral discs, leading to inflammation and pain.
Some of the common health issues leading to acute back pain include:
What are the symptoms of a thrown out back?
Symptoms of a thrown out back may vary with people depending on its severity, however, common symptoms may include:
- Aching muscles
- Difficulty maintain proper posture
- Lack of ability to move
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle stiffness that impedes full range of motion
- Sharp, shooting lower back pain
- Sudden, severe unbearable pain in the back
- Tightening of the muscles
Normally the pain lasts no longer than 10 to 14 days, but if it does, check with a doctor to ensure that there are no serious injuries.
What are 9 ways to treat a thrown out back?
People with a thrown out back can make a complete recovery within a few weeks. The following measures ensure that a person’s back properly heals so they get back to a normal routine:
- Rest: Resting the back is the best thing to do because the back muscles will have time to recover.
- Using special pillows or lumbar rolls to support the lower back reduces muscle strain.
- Lying flat on the back on a hard surface rather than a soft bed is ideal, allowing the spine to get aligned.
- Sleeping on the side with the head supported by a pillow and a pillow between bent knees can reduce stress on the back.
- Avoid sleeping on the stomach because this could worsen back pain.
- Apply ice: In the first 24 to 48 hours after a back injury, applying cloth-covered ice packs to the affected area of the back for up to 20 minutes will reduce inflammation, swelling, nerve activity, and pain.
- Apply heat: After the first 24 to 48 hours, a heating pad or other forms of heat can be applied for 20 minutes to increase blood flow to the area, repair damage, and reduce inflammation and discomfort.
- Anti-inflammatory medications: Taking over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medicines, such as naproxen or ibuprofen, can relieve pain.
- Massage: Self-massage, sports massage or soothing deep-tissue massage helps reduce acute pain and facilitates recovery.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture stimulates the nervous system and releases chemicals in the brain, spinal cord, and muscles, which aid pain relief.
- Strengthen and stretch the muscles: After about one to three days of rest, once the pain has subsided, engaging in slow, easy stretching exercises can prevent stiffness, improve blood flow to the injured muscles and relieve pain. Without exercise, the muscles that support the spine could weaken and increase pain rather than reducing it.
- Additional medications: If pain is more severe, the doctor may recommend and prescribe additional medications, such as stronger muscle relaxants, pain medications, or steroid injections.
- Surgery: In rare instances, the doctor may recommend surgery to correct injuries.
What are 8 ways to prevent back pain?
Following a healthy lifestyle can help prevent back injury, such as:
- Maintain a healthy weight: Extra weight, especially around the waist and stomach, can put a strain on the back.
- Regular exercise: Exercise can strengthen the muscles around the spine and is one of the best ways to keep the back strong.
- Warm-up before exercising: Stretch the muscles slowly for five minutes before exercising.
- Avoid high heels: Wearing heels can cause back problems, so avoid spending too much time wearing them.
- Lift things the correct way: Always bend at the knees (not with back) and keep the straight back when lifting objects from the ground.
- Avoid smoking: Smoking can restrict blood flow, depriving the spinal tissues of oxygen and other nutrients.
- Stay hydrated: To keep blood flowing to the back, drink a minimum of eight glasses of water each day.
- Good posture: Stand straight and sit erect, since hunching over will strain the back and increase the risk of further injury.
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American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Low Back Strain and Sprain. https://aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Low-Back-Strain-and-Sprain
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Sciatica. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/sciatica
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