What is muscle strain?

Muscle strain is sometimes called a pulled muscle. Treat a muscle strain in your back with ice, rest, compression, and heat or a see a doctor for an evaluation of a severe muscle strain in your back.
Muscle strain is sometimes called a pulled muscle. Treat a muscle strain in your back with ice, rest, compression, and heat or a see a doctor for an evaluation of a severe muscle strain in your back.

Back pain affects millions of people every year. Back pain is a leading cause of temporary disability. Some pain is due to chronic conditions in the vertebrae or spinal disc.  Other types of pain are related to problems with the muscles and ligaments in the back. 

Injuries such as a back-muscle strain are common causes of back pain. These painful injuries can be temporarily debilitating, but they seldom last longer than a few weeks. Most back strains heal with time and proper care. 

Muscle strain is sometimes called a pulled muscle. Pulled muscles can happen to anyone, especially if you engage in vigorous activity of any kind. Age, prior muscle injuries, lack of flexibility, and muscle weakness are all risk factors for strained muscles.

A strain is technically a tear in a muscle or the tendon that connects the muscle to your bones. The fibers of the muscle and tendon rip and cause pain and swelling. You might have difficulty moving the torn muscle, and in some cases, the tear can be so severe that you need surgery to reattach it. 

The spots where tendons and muscles connect are among the most frequent sites for strains. Any of the muscles in the back can be injured, but lower back strains are particularly prevalent. Common causes of muscle strains include:

  • Sports injuries
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Overusing muscles during exercise
  • Falling 

Back muscle strain symptoms

If you strain a muscle in your back, you might feel a sharp pain when the injury first happens. The injured spot will likely continue to hurt, and you may have difficulty moving immediately afterward. You might have pain even when you stay still.

Other symptoms include:

  • Lower back pain that extends into the buttocks
  • Stiffness and soreness in the lower back area, 
  • Difficulty moving the lower back
  • Inability to sit or stand normally due to discomfort 
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Pain for up to 10-14 days

Treatment for muscle strain in your back

Most muscle injuries in the back will heal with time. You may have pain and stiffness for as much as four weeks. It should get progressively better during that time. You can use home treatment methods to make yourself more comfortable, including:

  • Ice: Ice the area for 20 minutes. Wrap ice in fabric to protect your skin.
  • Rest: Limit activity to reduce the risk of aggravating the injury. 
  • Compression: An elastic bandage or brace can help with pain and swelling
  • Heat: Use a heating pad for 20 minutes at a time. Make sure to have fabric between your skin and the heating element to avoid burns.

Over-the-counter pain medicines might provide some relief. Ask your doctor which medications are safe for you to take. You can add gentle stretching and moderate activity once the pain has improved. It's not advisable to stay inactive for too long. A sedentary lifestyle will lead to weakness in your core muscles, which can make you prone to more injuries in the future.

Severe back strains

If home care doesn't help your symptoms, you should call your doctor. They will examine your back to make sure there isn't another reason for your back pain. You may need imaging tests such as x-rays, an MRI, or a CT scan to determine the final diagnosis.

Your doctor may recommend additional chiropractic care, massage, or physical therapy. Some people find complementary treatments such as acupuncture to be helpful for back pain.

Seek medical help immediately if back pain is accompanied by symptoms such as:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Unexplained fever above 101F 
  • Loss of bowels or bladder control
  • Blood in urine
  • Pain or numbness radiating down your leg
  • You cannot stand or walk

Preventing future back strain

Once your injury heals, you can take steps to prevent future muscle strains.

Core strengthening exercises

Do exercise to strengthen the muscles in your back. Building strength in your abdominal muscles, back muscles, and hip muscles will protect you from injuries in the future.

Be careful doing everyday activities

Protect your back by using good practices such as squatting and using your legs to lift objects. Avoid falling, which can cause back strains. Do not carry items that are too heavy for you. Maintain good posture when sitting and standing.

Lifestyle changes 

Maintain a healthy weight to relieve pressure on your back. Add moderate activity such as walking or swimming to your routine. Avoid smoking.

If you have questions about back pain or how to treat it, call your doctor. They can help you manage pain from injuries, 

QUESTION

Nearly everyone has low back pain at some time during their life. See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 1/5/2022
References
SOURCES:

American Association of Neurological Surgeons "Low Back Strain and Sprain."

Hospital for Special Surgery: "Muscle Strain: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Lumbar Strain."

UPMC Sports Medicine: "Sports and Muscle Strains."