Back strain is any injury to your back muscles causing pain and inflammation. Although you can injure any of your back muscles, the most common site of back strain is the lower part of your back. Often, the cause of the condition is improper lifting of heavy loads, which put great stress to your lower back muscles. Back strain is sometimes called pulled back muscles.
Common causes of back strain
The common causes of back strain include the following
• Lifting heavy objects
Sudden or regular lifting of heavy loads can cause your back muscles to become stretched beyond their limit. This may result in small tears or a major tear in your muscle.
• Improper lifting technique
Often, back strain is caused by improper lifting technique of heavy objects. This is when you try to carry a heavy object while bending only on your hip joints. When you bend only at your hips, your back muscles are already at a position of being slightly stretched. As you lift the load, there will be greater stress to your back muscles, which may result in tearing of your lower back muscles.
• Too much bending with twisting of the back
Back strain may also be due to too much bending and twisting of your back such as in shoveling snow.
• Improper exercise technique
Changing the weight and intensity of your workout too fast and too soon may also lead to the development of back strain. Not warming up before your workout may also put you at risk of straining your back muscles.
• Direct trauma
Back strain may also be caused by a sharp blow to your back muscles or may be a result of a fall.
Back strain symptoms
The symptoms that you might experience from straining your back depend on the severity of your injury. If you have mild strain you may have slight muscle aching or discomfort. If tearing of your back muscles occurs, you may have pain and swelling and moving your back becomes difficult.
If you experience severe pain that is not relieved with rest, you should consult your doctor, especially if you have had a direct trauma to your back or a fall accident.
What you can do
If you have mild back strain, you can immediately do the following home treatments to relieve your symptoms:
Stop the activity that caused your back symptoms, if possible and get some rest. Experts, however, recommend that you do not rest for longer than a couple of days. Studies show that resting too much may actually lead to stiffness and decreased muscle tone.
Put an ice pack over your injured area for 15 to 20 minutes at a time every 3 to 4 hours. Do not directly apply the pack to your skin as this may cause frostbite injury. Wrap the ice pack with towel. Icing is helpful in relieving pain and inflammation during the 24 to 72 hours following your injury.
Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as naproxen or ibuprofen may help relieve your pain and inflammation. Long-term use of NSAIDS, however, is not advisable. Talk to your doctor about what medication you can take, at what dose and for how long.
Exercise or physical activity
Exercising or doing some physical activity can help speed up your recovery. Your doctor or physical therapist can provide you with a list of exercises that you can perform to strengthen your back muscles.
If you experience severe pain, numbness or radiating pain to your lower limbs, don’t hesitate consult with your health care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Accessed on February 17, 2011
Low Back Strain (Muscle Strain). Physical Therapy (PT) Notes. Accessed on February 17, 2011
Back Injuries. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Accessed on February 17, 2011