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Lower Back Strains and Sprains

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Lower Back Strains and Sprains

  • Dr. Charla Fischer
  • May 29, 2018

Your lower back, or lumbar spine, has a difficult job to do. It supports the weight of your upper body, and it is involved in movements like bending, rotating, or twisting. The lower back consists of five lumbar vertebrae, which are the largest of all the vertebrae in your back due to their important weight-bearing role. The lower back is also made up of muscles, ligaments and tendons that work together to provide stability and flexibility for your body. Damage to any of these structures in your lower back can cause pain and immobility.

Demands that you place on your body every day can stress the soft tissues of your back, resulting in sprains or strains. Some common ways that people injure their lower back are:

  • Heavy lifting
  • Falling
  • Bending forward or backward too far
  • Not warming up appropriately before exercise
  • Twisting and bending simultaneously
  • Pulling or pushing movements

What is a sprain?

A sprain is defined as an injury to a ligament, causing the ligament to be stretched further than it normally should. Ligaments attach bones to bones and provide strength and stability to your lower back. These strong bands are not very flexible, so over-extending them is a risk. Sometimes ligaments are stretched so far that they tear.

What is a strain?

A strain is defined as damage to a muscle or tendon when it is over-stretched past its normal function. Muscles support and move your spine, while tendons are elastic tissues connecting your muscles to your bones. In severe cases, muscles may be torn.

What are the symptoms?

Both sprains and strains can cause varying degrees of pain, sometimes so intense that you can barely move. The area may be sensitive to touch, and localized swelling and stiffness may occur. You may experience spasms in your lower back and the pain can radiate down your buttocks and legs.

How do I know what my injury is?

For accurate diagnosis, visit a healthcare professional like Dr. Fischer at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. You will be asked about your symptoms and their onset, any activities that you have been doing, and your medical history. A physical and neurological examination will be performed to get a complete picture of your health, providing information about muscles weakness and reflexes. Tests may be performed such as X-rays or CT scans.

 How are strains and sprains treated?

The lower back is one part of the body that benefits from time allowed for healing. Even though your pain may be severe, Dr. Fischer will be there to help you through the healing process so that you are as comfortable as possible while recovering. Conservative treatments like pain medication, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory medication, icing therapy, and physical therapy may be part of your treatment plan for lower back strains or sprains. Additional treatments like chiropractic care or acupuncture may be helpful. In most cases, non-surgical treatment methods are enough to get you over your back strain or sprain. Surgery may be recommended in rare situations.

How do I avoid injuring my lower back again?

Preventing damage to your lower back is possible if you try to follow these guidelines:

  • Practice good posture and body mechanics
  • Perform stretching and strengthening exercises regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Maintain a nutritious diet
  • Quit smoking
  • Perform aerobic exercise to improve your overall health

Ask Dr. Fischer at NYU Langone Medical Center for more tips on how to avoid straining or spraining your lower back.

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