Doctors' Choice Physical Medicine

Schuylkill County Back Doctor Explains Back Strains vs. Back Sprains

The back is a complex structure of bones and muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The lower back—bears much of the body’s weight during all activity, even sitting. Because of the weight bearing, injuries to the lower back—such as strains and sprains—are common.

Schuylkill County Back Doctor Explains A Back Strain

A strain is an injury to either a muscle or muscle tendon. Tendons are the tough, fibrous bands of tissue that connect muscle to bone. With a back strain, the muscles and tendons that support the spine are twisted, pulled, or torn. This can happen suddenly because of an injury or very slowly because of poor body mechanics or structure.

Schuylkill County Back Doctor Explains A Back Sprain

A sprain is the stretching or tearing of a ligament. Sprains involve joints. Ligaments are the fibrous bands of tissue that connect two or more bones at a joint and prevent excessive movement of the joint. Sprain result in a ligament laxity or loosening of the joint or joints

What are the symptoms of a back strain or sprain?

Symptoms of both strains or sprains include:

In some cases, the person may feel a pop or tear at the time of the injury.

What causes a low back strain or sprain?

Twisting or pulling a muscle or tendon can result in a strain. It can also be caused by a single instance of improper lifting or by overstressing the back muscles.  A chronic strain usually results from overuse involving prolonged, repetitive movement of the muscles and tendons.

A sprain often results from a fall or sudden twist, or a blow to the body that forces a joint out of its normal position. All of these conditions stretch one or more ligaments beyond their normal range of movement, causing injury.

The Schuylkill Country back doctor wants you to know that there are several factors that put a person at greater risk for a back strain or sprain, including excessively curving the lower back, being overweight, having weak back or abdominal muscles, and/or tight hamstrings (muscles in the back of the thighs). Playing sports that involve pushing and pulling—such as weightlifting and football—also increases the risk of a low-back injury.

How are back sprains and strains diagnosed?

Most times, they are diagnosed from the clinical examination. X-rays may be taken, if there was trauma, but they will be negative. Often times a low back muscle strain and a joint sprain occur together.

Schuylkill County Back Doctor Explains Treatment for Strains and Sprains

The treatment for strains and sprains is similar, and often done in two phases. The goal of the first phase is to reduce the pain and spasm. This may involve rest, and the use of ice packs and compression (pressure), especially for the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury. An over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen may be recommended to help reduce pain and swelling. If the strain or sprain is mild (not much pain with movement) nothing more need be done. However second degree strains and sprains need prompt attention because there is more muscle or ligament tearing. If not treated promptly it will lead to more scar tissue and less mobility.

Let the amount of pain you have with movement be your guide if you should self-treat or see doctor such as a chiropractor.

What complications are associated with back strains and sprains?

The most common complication of a back strain or sprain is reduced activity, which can lead to weight gain, loss of bone density, and loss of muscle strength and flexibility in other areas of the body. This leads to degeneration and can lead to chronic pain.

What is the outlook for people with back strains and sprains?

Most people with back strains and sprains experience a full recovery with treatment within 2 weeks for mild injuries and 6 to 8 weeks for more extensive injuries.

When should I contact health care provider?

Call your health care provider if:

The above signs suggest you have a more severe injury that a sprain or strain.

Need more help?  Call us at 570-622-2525.