Lower Back Strain

The most common low back injuries are strains, in which lower back muscles or tendons are stretched or torn.

What is Low Back Strain?

The back is made up of bones (vertebrae) of the spinal column, disks between these bones, the spinal cord (which contains nerves), and muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Muscles in the back and belly (abdomen) help support the spine. The lower back (lumbar spine) supports most of the body weight and helps with moving, twisting, and bending. The most common low back injuries are strains, in which lower back muscles or tendons are stretched or torn. Tendons are tough bands of tissues connecting muscles and bones. Anyone can have a low back strain. Athletes, especially football players and gymnasts, are more likely to strain in practice than during competition.

What causes Low Back Strain?

Causes include activities that stress the lower back, such as stretching, bending, improper lifting, too much pulling (weight-lifting), or twisting (basketball, baseball, golf). Playing sports without stretching or warming up back muscles can lead to strains. Other causes are poor conditioning, obesity, smoking, coughing hard, emotional stress, falling, and trauma.

What are Symptoms or Low Back Strain?

Symptoms include sudden lower back pain that becomes worse with activities (bending, stretching, coughing, sneezing). Painful and stiff back, painful buttocks and legs, and lower back spasms are others.

How is Low Back Strain diagnosed?

Diagnosis result from taking a medical history, doing a physical, and maybe doing x-ray studies. Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonanse imaging (MRI) may be done if clearer pictures of bones, nerves, or disks between the bones are needed.

A study using electric current, called electromyography (EMG), helps diagnose muscle problems and may be done.

How is Low Back Strain treated?

Treatment involves rest, ice, heat, medicines, and physiotherapy. People should rest for a day or two, but then light physical activity should be started. Apply heat to the back but only after 2 to 3 days of using ice first, after the swelling has gone. Electric heating pads, hot water bottles, or soaking in a hot bath would work. Medicines include muscle relaxants and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain. Physical therapy and exercises can help strengthen muscles in the abdomen and can stretch and strengthen lower back muscles during and after healing.

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