Back strain or “pulled back” occurs when muscle fibers on the back are torn or stretched, which can occur from both trauma and a more gradual overuse. Strains often happen while lifting something improperly or lifting too heavy a weight, but occasionally strains occur for no apparent reason. Other strains can come from overuse or repetitive motion such as twisting and leaning while at a workstation. This overuse fatigues the muscles and makes them weaker so they are susceptible to a strain.
After the muscle is torn or over-stretched, inflammation occurs around the area to protect the strain from getting worse. The inflammation will cause stiffness and reduction in the range in motion and this inflammation causes pain, which is usually described as intense or sharp, but some people feel a dull ache or pressure in the affected area and down their legs. Sometimes the inflammation will also cause a muscle spasm; these spasms usually happen within the first few days after the injury occurs.
Some back strains will go away without treatment. But treatment for a strain begins with the reduction of inflammation and pain. Depending on the person, applying an ice pack to the affected area and/or taking anti-inflammatories can be helpful. Exercise and stretching is not recommended for people suffering from acute pain, though complete bed rest is also not recommended. Only one to two days of bed rest is suggested, after that normal or near-normal activity should be returned to as soon as possible. The second part of the treatment is rehabilitation through gradual exercise, which should begin about four to six weeks after a severe strain. There are many gentle stretches and exercises that can aid in recovery, including walking, swimming and biking.
Back pain, especially pain in the lower back, is one of the most common ailments in adults. Around 85% of adults will experience some sort of back pain in their lives. Though keeping the back healthy and strong might not keep back strains from occurring, it may reduce their severity. Maintaining a healthy back includes frequent low impact aerobic, core strengthening, and stretching exercises. Maintain an ideal body weight is also helpful.
By taking some basic steps, mild pain often goes away without a doctor’s visit in about two weeks and severe pain six to eight weeks. 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.