Back Sprain

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.

15 thoughts on “Back Sprain”

  1. Great post with some solid information!

    I just want to add my 2 cents from my clinical perspective. A majority of the back sprains I see are actually not due to a major acute trauma such as falls or motor vehicle collisions.

    Rather, they are caused by repetitive faulty postures or movements which put excess tension on the ligaments and over time, cause chronic trauma.

    Eventually, the tissues can’t tolerate the stress anymore and the body system creates pain.

    Dev Chengkalath

  2. First, I would get a doctors opinion before trying it!, but I will tell you what worked for me.
    This only applies to lifting injuries.
    I was lifting long tree limbs and throwing them over the fence for about 3 or 4 hours. Then 2 days later I had lower back pain.
    For the next 4 years or so about twice a year I would be putting on my pants or some usual thing and move just the wrong way and the lower back would slip out and I would be bent over and in a lot of pain for 2 or 3 weeks. Also driving or being in one position for awhile was painful. I went to a couple of doctors but they couldn’t tell anything on the x-rays and one gave a diagnosis ,but I forget the name of it, he described it as the problem Felix Unger had on the Odd Couple when he would bend over to get in the taxi and get stuck.
    Anyway these episodes got closer and closer together, maybe 4 or 5 a year and I was getting desperate so I took desperate measures.
    I theorized that what I did originally was overstretch the ligaments on one side of my spine and them being weaker would let the spine slip or be pulled over by the stronger un-damaged ligaments on the other side, then the spine would hit a nerve, the muscles would spasm and tie up, and then take 2 weeks to get back to normal. So my theory was to weaken the ligaments on the other side in the exact same place [or I’d have 2 problems!]and I thought I could do this because I knew what I did to get the problem. So I got a tree limb of same size and started doing the exact same motion with it as before only lifting it on the opposite side, opposite hand, and throwing it the opposite way. I started out slowly in case it was making more of a problem and inched up on it but it worked. No more bad back.
    I don’t know what the long term consequences of having weakened ligaments in your lower back are but it’s been about 10 years now or more and so far so good.

  3. I sustained multiple compression fxs from an auto accident. 3+ years after, I still have chronic pain! I came upon this blog as I research a back brace that I was perscribed shortly after accident, since I still have it I a considering if it could help now. My mother, also in said accident, was treated for a “lumbar sprain”. I believe she has recovered from this as expected and she didn’t complain much. Today, I still have inflammation, kyphosis and lordosis, as well as shoulder and hip pain/numbness, etc. Since you both sound well educated on the soft tissue involved, I wonder if you could suggest a direction for me. I have been to ER and left with a diagnosis of chest wall inflammation about 1 year ago. I am concerned that the curvature is getting worse in my spine and my sternum even feels bruised! Does it sound like wearing this brace consistently could help put less strain on my body?

  4. This is a great article, the only problem I had with it is that what I had perceived as a back sprain actually turned out to be a kidney problem. Very helpful though, thanks!

  5. Get the Million Dollar Roll for this one folks. Back sprains or Facet Sprains are so common. Typically people can’t straighten their spine after being seated for long periods.

    Get it manipulated and this tends to help most cases in a far shorter period of time. Unless of course there is neuro involvement- then you’re obviously talking something more serious with a longer prognosis.


  6. I sprained my lower left back muscles in a diving accident about 20 years ago. I never went for physical therapy, as suggested, and have still experience back pain/stiffness now.

  7. I have experienced an “event” the other day where I was trying to lift something very heavy back to its upright position, (i.e. an 850 pound motorcycle) and felt a “snap” in my back that made me fall to my knees in pain. The pain went down my legs. Not sure what the snap was but I’ve been in excruciating pain for the last 24 hours. Has anyone experienced a back injury like this?

  8. i wanted to share my two bits.. i hurt my back at work 4 yrs ago.. diagnosed as a sprain, (later after mri and numerous opinions, it was damaged facet joints on the right side and a disc tear along with the torn ligaments and recirculating muscle spasms) i was sent to pt, with no work for 4 months. then they put me in traction and sent my pelvis out of place, causing worse damage and more severe pain then the original problem, i had almost recovered from. i have tried chiros, exercises, wine/tequila and denial. but i left out the experimental injections, narcotic pain meds and muscle relaxers they prescribed that made my head worse and my body numb.
    i have discovered after a long journey, yoga (the type that might work might not be the one they show you in the gym), non doing and mediation in the mindfulness “non reactive” nature, listening to my body and moving it properly, to be the best benefits for chronic pain that affects the mind and the body and daily life. its been a long, not over with climb, but i have more control over it now, its still there, but i am dealing better.
    i also discovered that “its all in your head” is not the way to diagnose and treat back pain. it is in your head, but its not the way they make it sound, chronic pain is likened to addiction in how it works in the brain, after a while your samskaras, or brain patterns change with the pain influence. one has to make an effort to redirect it. regardless of the cause or severity, if its in there, you have to work with it. that pretty much can be said for a lot of things that affect our lives.

  9. I work as a cashier at a grocery store and have been doing so for the past four years. Unlike most grocery stores, cashiers at this store have to get the groceries out of customers baskets, bag them, and place them back in the cart. There is a lot of streching to do with this job. Also, I am tall compared to the bagging stands and have to do a lot of repetitive bending and stretching. About six weeks ago, I experienced an extremly sharp pain to the right of my left scapula (shoulder blade) when reaching to bag some groceries. I reported the injury tried to continue working; however, the muscles around my injury became very tense. I was taken to a local emergency clinic and diagnosed with a thoracic sprain, given ibuprofen and told to return to work. After my return to work, my back pain became worse and the ibuprofen did nothing to ease the pain. I went back to the emergency clinic and was given flexeril and placed on light duty, not to lift over two pounds and no stretching. It seemed the flexeril worked a lot better, but also kept putting me to sleep. It was affecting my study habits, so I temporarily stopeed taking it since I am a full-time college student. It returned to the clinic again after a couple weeks due to further back pain. I was prescribed flexeril again. It seems that my injury really isn’t getting any better. I have off and on back pain, especially when I have to bend. What can I do to improve?

  10. This helps alot! My problem im ha
    ving now after my racing accident is stiff pain when ever I do heavy lifting or pulling or alot of standing. I had receved a lower back sprain oct 8th 2011 n ive done all I couldd
    to make it better, but even today when I shoveld snow I had to stop after 15mins bc of burning only 20 what should I do???

  11. I always had back pain problems and i think is one of the good and informative article that can give big help to me.

  12. I have had a back sprain for four day/ x-rays Dr said back sprain
    should I exercise with this

  13. I had a very small vehicle accident on the 17th of this month and had to go to the hospital because the pain in my back was so bad I could barely move and had to leave work early. I have been to a chiropractor who said my spine, for some reason, has shifted to the right and I have lost the curve in my neck. So I understand I will have back pain and headaches but I just started working at a nursing home, which includes me lifting a lot. When I went to the hospital they said I had just spained it but I didn’t think a sprain would make me bawl and make it where I can barely move. Now I’m confused if I hurt my back in the accident or if it was an addition to what happened years ago. And the doctor at the ER told me to go straight back to work, knowing what I do for a living. Should I go to a different doctor because the pain is still here and worse.

  14. i fell during our practice in cheerdancing when i was in college and its been 3years,still i can feel the pain in my back,(muscle/ligaments @left mid part of my back)i went to massage parlor but didnt worked.i feel numbness tingling sensation @ my back.its annoying !anyone can help me?can i have XRAY?

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