Back strain can cause you pain and limitation of movement. Fortunately, most back strains can be effectively treated with medications, bed rest, icing and physical therapy. In some cases, surgery may be necessary.
What is back strain?
Back strain is an injury that occurs in any of your back muscles. It can be caused by stretching or tearing of your back muscles from improper carrying techniques or trauma. Activities that involve too much bending and twisting of the trunk may also lead to the development of back strain.
How is back strain diagnosed?
Your health care provider would likely be asking about your activity that led to your back injury or previous related medical history. He or she will perform a thorough physical examination. Your doctor may also recommend imaging tests if he or she suspects other structures in your back including your spine are involved. This will help your provider to rule out other medical conditions.
Common Back Strain Treatments
Depending on the cause and severity of your back strain, your treatment may involve a combination of the following:
Pain medications, such as naproxen or ibuprofen can help with your back pain and inflammation. Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication. Talk to your doctor about other medications that you are taking. Some pain medications may react with other drugs that you are taking.
Ice or heat application
Icing should be used during the acute stage of your injury (first few days). Applying ice pack wrapped in towel for 20 minutes can help relieve your pain and reduce your swelling. Your doctor may recommend that you continue icing for 2 to 3 days following your injury until swelling subsides.
Heat should not be used while you have swelling as this may cause your symptoms to get worse. Use a hot pack wrapped in towel for 15 to 20 minutes. Applying heat increases blood flow to your injured muscles, which can help hasten healing.
If you are unsure whether to use icing or heat for your injury, don’t hesitate to consult your health care provider.
Your doctor may recommend that you undergo physical therapy for your back strain. Physical therapy can help you manage your symptoms and teach you with safe exercises that you can perform to strengthen or reduce tightness in your back muscles. In addition, your physical therapist may use electrotherapeutic modalities, such as an ultrasound (US) or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS) as part of your treatment plan.
Your therapist may also provide you with a home treatment plan including exercise that can help speed up your recovery.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if severe or complete tearing of your muscle is confirmed. Your doctor will talk to you about what to expect from the procedure. Physical therapy and rehabilitation is often recommended following your surgery to help prepare you for your return in your previous work of activities.
While mild back strain can be effectively treated with bed rest, icing and physical therapy, you may need surgery to repair severely torn muscles.
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Sprains and Strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Accessed on February 17, 2011
What is Muscle Strain?. Physical Therapy (PT) Notes. Accessed on February 17, 2011
Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Accessed on February 17, 2011