By Jed S. Vanichkachorn, MD, MBA, MSHA
The lower back, or lumbar region, has a difficult job bearing the brunt of a person’s body weight, making it easier for a lower back sprain, or strain, to occur. Trauma can occur when a person walks, lifts something heavy, run, or even twists awkwardly in a chair. It is my hope that by understanding the lower back sprain and its symptoms and treatment, we can work to prevent this injury by being “back smart.”
What is A Lower Back Sprain?
A sprain or strain is usually caused by awkward heavy lifting, and is usually benign, meaning a larger or more serious issue does not often cause the sprain. The trauma occurs in the musculature of the lower back, and is very common. Other causes are exercise injuries, car accidents, or athletic injuries. In some cases, a tendon, the tough bands of tissue that connect the bone and muscle in the back, can be pulled, torn or twisted, causing pain. Another reason you may experience a back sprain is that the discs in the lower back dehydrate with age and provide less support and shock absorption. Look for other symptoms, but if there is no numbness or radiating pain, the disc is likely not herniated.
Symptoms and Treatment of Lower Back Sprain
This injury presents with pain that gets worse with movement, muscle cramps or spasms, and decreased mobility. In some cases, the patient will feel the injury as it occurs, and be alarmed by a popping or tearing noise. In severe cases with a deeper cause to the problem, the pain can evolve into weakness or tingling in the leg, or bowel and bladder problems. When that happens, it is crucial that the patient see the doctor right away. When the pain is localized and does not radiate or cause numbness, the large majority of patients will see improvement in 2-3 weeks. Treatment includes conservative treatment that can include medication, physical therapy, ice therapy and rest.
Preventing Lower Back Sprains
The easiest way to prevent any lower back injury is to be “back smart” when lifting. That means lifting from the knees instead of the back. Additionally, thirty minutes of physical activity 3-4 times per week, plus core strengthening exercises, can help the back become less vulnerable to injury. A healthy diet that promotes bone health can keep discs from deteriorating prematurely. Extra weight can put added stress on the lumbar region of the back, so keeping a healthy weight is important also.
Even though this type of injury is fairly common and the majority of patients recover easily, there are certain circumstances where it is important to contact a doctor. Contact your doctor immediately if you’re experiencing these symptoms:
- Severe pain that inhibits you from walking
- Numbness in the back and/or legs
- Back sprain with a history of back injuries
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
If you have questions about lower back sprains, contact us for an appointment today.