Back Muscle and Ligament Injuries

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Back Pain from overuse or overload injuries.

Muscle and Ligament Injuries

Strains and Sprains

Simple strains are the most common cause of back pain, especially lower back pain.

Back pain is frequently caused from strained back muscles. Muscle strain is often caused by overuse of a muscle or overloading a muscle.


Muscle Strain and Back Pain from Overload Injuries:

Back Pain from strained muscles or ligaments can occur when the back is overloaded - such as when lifting something too heavy. Weak muscles are more easily overloaded and injured than strong muscles, but any muscle can be overloaded.

Poor lifting techniques as well as lifting objects that are too heavy can strain the back muscles. Falling down or an unexpected twisting of the back can cause sudden back pain. Though this acute back pain is usually from overstretching or tearing of muscles or ligaments, sometimes a spinal joint becomes irritated and the muscle around the joint goes into spasms.

Muscle Strain and Back Pain from Overuse Injuries:

Back pain often occurs when a muscle contraction is held too long. The body is made to move. When one position is held too long, the back muscles get fatigued and strained. Switching positions shift the workload to another group of muscles, preventing one muscle group from becoming fatigued. Doing too many repetitive movements can cause muscle strain from overuse. Increasing back exercises too quickly can also cause back pain due to overuse injuries. Poor posture also cause the muscles to have to work harder to support the spine, which leads to fatigue, strain, and back pain.

Symptoms of Back Muscle Strains:

Symptoms of back muscle strain include back pain and muscle weakness and sometimes muscle spasms, cramping and inflammation. The back pain may be sudden, but usually comes on gradually. Mild muscle strains usually heal within two weeks. Moderate muscle strains may take six to eight weeks to heal.

Back Pain from Ligament Strain (Sprained Back):

Acute back pain can result from a back sprain. (Torn or overstretched ligaments).

Ligament Injuries and Back Pain that occur suddenly:
Sudden movements can cause injury to the ligaments because the muscles don't have time to react - e.g. in a fall or car accident. The muscles don't contract enough to keep the spine within its normal range of motion, causing ligaments to stretch or tear.

Symptoms of Back Sprains :
Minor back sprains (slight tearing or overstretching of a ligament) cause minor back pain and swelling with little or no bruising. Moderate back sprains cause moderate back pain and swelling with bruising. Severe back sprains cause severe back pain, swelling and bruising and make it almost impossible to move. Healing time depends on the severity of the sprain. Most back sprains heal in six to eight weeks but it can take several months for complete recovery from a severe back sprain.

Treatment of Back or Ligament Strain:

Back pain caused by muscle or ligament strain will usually resolve without any special treatment within 2 weeks to 2 months. However, many people who experience recurring back pain have weak core muscles- the muscles that support the back. Strengthening these muscles can prevent back pain from recurring , though the time for strength exercises is after the back pain has resolved. See Post-injury exercise page and Back Exercises page.

To Treat the Pain:

Temporary relief of back pain may be obtained with pain medications and applying heat and cold. Relief from the Back Pain from Sprains and Strains can be obtained by applying ice to the injury for 15 minutes every 4 hours for two or three days. The cold helps reduce pain and inflammation and is also a distraction from the back pain. After four or five days, providing the inflammation has subsided, applying heat for 15 or 20 minutes at a time may be beneficial. Heat increases blood flow and helps relax tight back muscles. (Pain can cause muscles to tighten or spasm)

Your doctor may prescribe pain medications that contain codeine and/or muscle relaxants to relieve severe acute back pain, especially for the first week after the injury.

Drinking plenty of water is important to flush out the acidic byproducts of muscular activity that can accumulate and irritate the muscles.

There are many methods to relieve pain and loosen tight back muscles - massage therapy, hydrotherapy, etc. See Back Pain Treatments for more options.

Tip: To avoid aggravating back pain, 'roll' out of bed: bend your legs at your knees and hips and roll on your side. Push yourself up with your arms as you hang your lower legs over the side of the bed.

What about Exercise after Back Strain?

Bed rest will actually delay recovery. But you could restrain injured muscles by rushing into an exercise program before healing has taken place. Maintain daily activities. Gentle stretching exercises for the back increase circulation to the muscles to speed healing, relieve tight muscles and help increase mobility. Save the strengthening exercises until your back pain has gone or as recommended by your doctor or physical therapist. If you are unsure as to what exercises are safe or when to begin them, a physical therapist can create a personalized exercise program for you to follow. Back Exercises will reduce your chances of back pain recurring. See Post-injury exercise page.

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