A lower back strain is one of the most frequent causes of back pain. It occurs when the muscle fibers in the back are abnormally torn or stretched. Behind the common cold, lower back pain is the second leading cause of missed days of work in America, and almost everyone experiences some form of lower back pain during their life. A low back strain can cause pain in other parts of your back and body because nerves stretch out from the spinal cord and impact their entire body. The most common symptom of a lower back strain is stiffness in the lower back which restricts your movement and range of motion. The stiffness may also make it difficult to maintain a normal posture. There may be muscle spasms at rest or with activity, and the low back pain may radiate into the buttocks.
When the lumbar spine is strained, the soft tissues become inflamed which causes pain and sometimes a spasm. A series of ligaments and muscles hold the bones of your spinal column in place in your back. These muscles can become strained by being stretched too far. This causes them to become weakened, limiting their ability to properly hold the spinal column bones in place correctly. A lower back strain can be caused by lifting heavy objects, especially if you are not in shape. It can be caused by crouching or bending repeatedly. This is a common cause among baseball catchers because they are constantly in a crouching position. A lower back strain can also be a result of extreme physical exertion or from a fall. Other known factors that contribute to low back pain include smoking, obesity, and poor conditioning.
Since a back strain is a result of inflammation in the muscles near the spine, you should take an anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Specific sports creams can also help, as can muscle relaxants. It is also important to rest. Avoid activities that can aggravate a lower back strain and limit your movements as much as possible. This does not mean complete immobility, however. Walking, even for a few minutes, though painful can be successful in helping loosen up the back muscles. Once your symptoms begin to disappear, light stretching can also help loosen up your back. You should also apply ice for about 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Make sure the ice is wrapped in a thin towel to avoid causing skin damage. Once the inflammation is reduced, you can begin applying heat therapy to help relax the back muscles. Try spending time in a hot tub with massaging jets or Jacuzzi.
The recovery time for a lower back strain depends entirely on the severity of the back strain. It may go away in a few days, but may linger for weeks or months. A strong rehabilitation program can help get rid of symptoms faster. A physical therapist may use a massage or electric muscle stimulation to help treat a lower back strain. They will use specific stretching exercises to help strengthen the ligaments and muscles, and show you how to do these at home. You may also want to see an osteopathic physician or chiropractor, as these doctors can prescribe forms of treatment (such as cortisone injections) to help with severe back strains. More than 90% of patients completely recover from a lower back strain. There are some things you can do to help prevent a lower back strain. Make sure you maintain correct posture when you are standing and sitting, and use correct moving and lifting techniques. Do crunches and sit-ups to strengthen the abdominal muscles which provide the spine with more stability. Swimming and cycling are good aerobic exercises that do not put stress on your back. Maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking can also help alleviate strain on your lower back, while improving your lifestyle at the same time. The University of Maryland Medical Center has more information on how to treat low back pain and lower back strains.