A back sprain is an injury to a ligament in the back, as opposed to a strain, which is an injury to the muscle. Ligaments are the fibrous tissues that connect the bones of the back, or more specifically the vertebrae. A sprain can occur when there is a quick or sudden movement, for example a car or bike accident, and the muscles of the back cannot react quickly enough to hold the spine in place, and so the ligaments holding the spine together are torn or stretched.
Acute pain can happen as a result from a back sprain. The pain is described as intense or sharp and stabbing and sometimes a popping or tearing can be heard. Inflammation can occur around the sprain to keep the area from becoming injured further. That inflammation can causes stiffness or a reduction in motion and is often the source of the pain. Sprains can be minor, moderate, or severe. The more trauma that the ligament receives then the more severe the symptoms. Symptoms can range from inflammation to bruising to almost complete immobility.
A longer time period will be needed to heal a more traumatized ligament. With proper care a mildly sprained back can take six to eight weeks to heal. Since ligaments heal slower than muscles a severe sprain can take months to recover and must be rehabilitated properly so that there isn’t a recurrence.
The first step in caring for a sprain is to reduce the inflammation and pain. There are many techniques in reducing inflammation, including icing (never put the ice directly on the skin), anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, and topical analgesics, however there is disagreement among healthcare professionals as to whether these are necessary, as most acute pain will subside on it’s own with proper rest and care. Complete bed rest might be necessary for the first couple of days when the pain is the most acute, but after that normal or near-normal activity should be returned to as soon as possible. The quicker that someone can get up and moving (without pain, of course), the better.
The second step in caring for an acute back sprain is rehabilitation. Exercise and stretching to improve the overall condition of back but especially the injured area is key to a speedy full recovery. There are many gentle stretches and exercises that can aid in recovery, including walking, swimming and biking. If pain returns and increases with exercises or if there is ever any numbness, bladder control problems, weakening in the legs, or if the pain becomes unmanageable, a sufferer should immediately consult with a physician.
Almost every adult at one time or another will experience back pain. It is the second most common reason Americans see their PCP and/or call in sick and two thirds of us will experience it in our lifetime. Staying physically fit and keeping core muscles strong can decrease your chances of having acute pains.