Low back pain: muscle strainA “pulled” back muscle, most of us have experienced this. Sometimes you know the moment you’ve done it and sometimes it creeps up on us after the offending action but you’d be hard pressed to find an adult who hasn’t “tweaked,” “twinged” or otherwise “threw out” their back. These muscular (often combined with ligament) injuries make up the majority of low back pain cases. As a local St Charles chiropractor, I see “pulled” low back muscles on a regular basis. In the medical world we call these low back “pulled” muscles a lumbar muscle strain. This is in contrast to a sprain which can occur to ligaments that connect our bones together. Basically, they are both caused by over-stretching the involved tissue with a sprain referring to ligaments and a strain referring to muscle fibers. These often occur together but not necessarily, with treatments being essentially the same. To add to the pain of the actual strained tissue, the surrounding area will often inflame leading to more pain and muscle spasms, which can make moving around rather difficult.
Causes of pulled back muscles
Some of the most common reasons for low back muscle strains are more obvious, such as falls, improper heavy lifting and sports injuries (often ones that involve a lot of torso rotation). However not all of the causes are so obvious. The quadratus lumborum (QL) muscle, a muscle that runs from the pelvis up to the last rib (there’s one on each side), can be strained during simple daily events. Leaning over a sink to wash dishes, getting the groceries from the trunk of your car, replacing that 5 gallon jug in the water cooler or sitting slouched at your desk can strain one or both QL muscles. Regardless of the cause, these strained muscles can benefit from some manual therapy.
Treatment for low back muscle strains
Despite the fact that it has been debunked for some time now, the popular myth for treating these low back muscle strains is bed rest. The most current evidence actually supports continued movement (to tolerance) over bed rest for most cases. Bed rest can prolong pain and delay healing which is why it is inadvisable in the majority of cases. Even in the most severe of low back muscle strains, bed rest is not usually prescribed for more than 1-2 days. During the first 24-48 hours the use of ice packs is important to reduce inflammation and pain. This is best done for 20 minute increments with breaks of at least 20 minutes in between. After the 48 hours, effort should be made to get closer to normal daily activities (within tolerance). A gentle stretching routine can be started which should be specific to the strained muscles, and will vary depending on the involved muscles and individual flexibility. This can best be achieved with the help of a professional (like your chiropractor, medical doctor, physical therapist, etc).
The most mild of these cases can heal in a few days but the more severe cases can take up to 4 weeks. Healing can be accelerated and symptoms reduced using manual therapies. Chiropractic manipulation will both promote healing and help relax tightened muscles. Massage therapy is another good option. In my opinion, doing both is even better. At White Oak Family Wellness, we always combine manual therapies to help patients get back on their feet and out of pain as quick as possible.
For those of you looking to help prevent future back strains, regular exercise and stretching has been proven to reduce the occurrence of low back injuries. A chiropractor or physical therapist (PT or DPT) will be able to help you come up with a good exercise and stretching plan focused on stabilizing your low back and pelvis.
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By: Phillip Gamble, DC
Doctor of Chiropractic
White Oak Family Wellness
405 Illinois Avenue #2b
St. Charles, IL 60174
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