Your back is a complex structure made up of bones, muscles, nerves and joints. This can often make it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the pain. Most cases of back pain, whether it’s lower back or upper back, aren’t caused by serious damage or disease but can be caused by:
#1 Strains & Sprains (see what the difference is below),
#2 Bone conditions (Congenital, Degenerative or Injury),
#3 Pinched or irritated nerve,
#5 Other conditions that are less common.
This article details a description of possible causes and appropriate treatments of back strains & sprains. We will cover other back pain causes in future articles, so stay tuned!
#1 Back Strain or Sprain
What is it exactly?
A strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon. It can range from microscopic tears to more severe ones. A tendon is a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones. When the injury is on a ligament, we use the word “sprain”.
The most common cause is strain or sprain often related to heavy physical labor, lifting or forceful movement, bending or twisting into awkward positions, or standing in one position too long. The severity of the pain ranges from mild discomfort to severe, disabling pain, depending on the extent of the injury and the back spasms that result from the injury.
Most strains and sprains can be successfully treated at home with RICE. Don’t be confused we are not talking about eating rice! RICE is an acronym for: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Exercise (Elevation is used for other kinds of injury but try to elevate your back above your heart and you’ll understand why we changed it to Exercise…). Some also add a “P” for Protection and use PRICE instead of RICE, but we believe Compression and Protection go hand in hand.
Here are brief details about RICE:
Avoid using your muscle for a few days, especially if movement causes an increase in pain. Too much rest can cause muscles to become weak, which can prolong the healing process. After two days, slowly begin using the affected muscle group, taking care not to overdo it.
Apply ice immediately after injuring your muscle. This will minimize swelling. Don’t put ice directly on your skin. Use an ice pack or wrap ice in a towel. Keep the ice on your muscle for about 20 minutes. Repeat as often as possible for the first 48 hours, after which it is usually recommended to treat with heat because internal bleeding and swelling has stopped and you must now focus on healing and a good blood circulation helps it. You might want to look at magnetic heat back braces for that purpose.
To reduce swelling as well as protect, wrap the affected area with a lumbar back brace. Be careful not to wrap the area too tightly, as this can reduce your blood circulation.
Aerobic conditioning, stretching, and strengthening are the most typical exercises to prevent and ease lower back pain. However, if you already have back muscle strain or other low back pain, it is advisable to first be evaluated by a physician and, as appropriate, receive guidance on how to do the exercises above by a back specialist. We will cover stretching and strengthening exercises in a future article for more details.
Besides RICE you can also use an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen. This will help keep pain and inflammation down. Acetaminophen can help with pain but not inflammation.
If your muscle strain is severe, you may need medical attention. Physical therapy may also be recommended, so don’t hesitate to consult a professional!