Strains and sprains

Abnormal forces put on the tissues make the fibers of muscles, ligaments, or tendons abnormally stretched or torn. This causes inflammation, pain, and inability to use the muscle as before and predisposes to back joint problems. Strains and sprains often fall under non-specific low back pain, as it is often hard to pinpoint the exact cause.

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What causes or predisposes you to muscle, ligament, or tendon strain?

High forces are created during certain activities involving sudden injuries or gradual overuse:

  • Sudden movements during sports

  • Lifting high loads or bad lifting technique

  • Sitting in inappropriate positions for a prolonged period (e.g. slouched, leaning forward, spine rotated, or bending putting more weight through one side of the body

  • Inactivity and muscle weakness in your lower back, buttocks, and abs

  • Attempting sports/ activities you are not physically prepared for. You generally need a gradual build-up of strength.

Symptoms of non-specific low back pain

  • Pain, sharp shooting or radiating to the buttocks and thighs

  • Rigidity and restricted movement in the lower back

  • Pain when sitting for long periods

When should I seek medical help?

There are circumstances when back pain might be caused or accompanied by serious issues. If such symptoms are present it is best to seek immediate medical attention to avoid further complications.

Although these are rare to encounter, it is always good to make sure you have no worrying symptoms.

  • Your pain is caused by a major accident such as a traffic collision or fall

  • You have osteoporosis or there is a visible change in shape/deformity in your back

  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in one or both lower limbs

  • Loss bladder control

  • The pain is disturbing your sleep

  • Previous history of cancer

  • If you have a fever, chills, or unexplained weight loss

Diagnosis

To diagnose any strain in your lower back your doctor will perform a physical examination and special tests, taking your case history and past medical history, and will also palpate (gently examine by touch) the area to establish the source. They will rule out other potential causes and might need help with imaging such as X-ray, MRI, and CT scan if in doubt, before concluding there is a strain.

Often, however, if symptoms are not concerning, the imaging is only done if the first line of treatment doesn't help your back pain.

Treatment

Simple strains can heal on their own if aggravating activities are removed. But there are some things that you can do at home to help the recovery:

  • Use an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) wrapped in a towel. Apply for around 20 minutes every 3-4 hours for the first 2-3 days of the injury. This will help reduce pain and swelling

  • Once inflammation is down, you can try applying a heat pack (or hot water bottle) to the area to warm up and relax muscle spasms or other soft tissues and further reduce pain

  • Use painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication but make sure you are aware of side effects. It is always a good idea to consult your healthcare practitioner if you are unsure.

  • Get physiotherapist or osteopath advice and treatment. These are qualified specialists who deal with cases such as focusing on approaches such as exercises, spinal manipulation, and assessment of contributing factors.

  • Prescription medicines for stronger pain relief if the over-the-counter medication doesn't work

Recovering from non-specific lower back pain

The recovery period normally depends on the extent of the strain/ sprain, individual factors, and the ability to remove aggravating activities. Many non-serious back muscle strains can heal within a few days or a few weeks on their own, whereas more serious cases may take more time.

Prevention of non-specific back pain

  • Be mindful of the physical activities you do. If an activity causes pain - stop. Although it is common to feel some pain after a workout. Allow enough time to recover before the next workout.

  • Regularly do exercises to stretch, mobilize and strengthen your back, buttock, and abs muscles.

  • When lifting something, make sure you bend your knees and don't flex your back. Put the weight through your hips and lower limbs.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight 

  • Watch your posture and strengthen your postural muscles. Choose a comfortable chair with enough back support.