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A low back muscle strain occurs when the muscle fibers are abnormally stretched or torn. A lumbar sprain occurs when the ligaments, the tough bands of tissue that hold bones together, are torn from their attachments. Differentiating a strain from a sprain can be difficult, as both injuries will show similar symptoms. In general, it doesn't matter what you call the problem because the treatment and prognosis for both back strains and sprains are the same.

Why Are Sprains and Strains of the Low Back So Common?

The spine is supported by large muscles called the paraspinal muscles. These muscles support the spinal column as well as the weight of the upper body. The five lumbar vertebrae are connected by tough ligaments that help to maintain the position of the spinal column.

These muscles, ligaments, and bones all work together to provide control and strength for nearly all activities. The lumbar spine and its muscles are needed for almost all movements and activities. For this reason, the lumbar spine is prone to injury, and when an injury has been sustained, we are prevented from performing many activities.

The Steps to Treatment:

Treatment of a lumbar muscle strain is important to understand. Once you know the cause of your symptoms, you can proceed with treatment. It is important that you be evaluated by a doctor if you are unsure what is causing your lower back pain. There are lower back conditions that require immediate treatment.

Step 1: Rest

Resting the back allows the inflammation to subside and control the symptoms of muscle spasm. Bed rest should begin soon after injury, but it should not continue beyond about 48 hours as it’s just as important to not allow the muscles to become weak and stiff. Once the acute inflammation has subsided, some simple stretches and exercises should begin.

Step 2: Medications

Two groups of medications are especially helpful in treating the acute symptoms of a lumbar back strain. Anti-inflammatory medications help control the inflammation caused by the injury and also help to reduce pain. There are many anti-inflammatory options, so talk to your doctor about what medication is appropriate for you.

The second group of medications includes muscle-relaxants. For patients who have back spasm symptoms, these muscle relaxing mediations can be a very useful aspect of treatment. These medications are often sedating, so discuss their use with your doctor.

Step 3: Physical Therapy/Exercises

Proper conditioning is important to both avoid this type of condition and recover from this injury. Stretching and strengthening the back muscles helps control the inflammation and better condition the lumbar back muscles. The exercises should not be painful. Without some simple exercises, the lower back muscles can become weak, making it very difficult to fully recover from lower back injuries.

Know that even if you live an active, healthy lifestyle, your lower back muscles may be weak. When you have a lower back muscle injury, you should perform specific exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles of the lower back, hips, and abdomen. These exercises are relatively simple, do not require special equipment, and can be performed at home.

Step 4: Further Evaluation

If symptoms continue to persist despite treatment, visit your doctor for further evaluation. Other causes of back pain should be considered, and perhaps X-rays or other studies may be needed to make an accurate diagnosis.

For more information about back injuries and preventative tips, contact our physical medicine and rehabilitation expert or one of our spine specialists at Flagstaff Bone & Joint at (928) 255-4508 or request an appointment online.