What Does Low Back Strain Feel Like
Symptoms of low back strain include:
- Pain and stiffness in the back.
- Pain in the buttocks and the legs, often in the back of the thigh.
- Pain that worsens when bending, stretching, coughing, or sneezing.
Since some symptoms of low back strain are similar to those of more serious conditions, it’s important to get checked out by a doctor. Any numbness and weakness in your legs, or bowel and bladder problems, can be a sign of nerve damage — and that needs immediate medical attention.
To diagnose low back strain, your doctor will give you a thorough exam. You may also need X-rays, MRIs , and CT scans. These extra tests may only be needed if your pain doesn’t go away on its own or with conservative treatment.
Treating Sciatica Pain And Managing Expectations
Many people think that the worse the pain, the more likely something bad is going on. However, this isnt true for sciatica. The body can reabsorb the disc material that is causing symptoms, even for those with severe pain. So, treatment focuses on controlling pain and keeping people as active as possible. If the pain is excruciating, lying down for short periods can help, but prolonged bed rest does not. So, once the pain diminishes, I tell patients to get up and start walking short distances. Since sitting increases pressure on the discs in the lower back, I recommend avoiding prolonged sitting or driving. Many people try treatments like physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic manipulation, but evidence suggests that while these approaches may help typical low back pain, they are less helpful for sciatica. Over-the-counter pain medicines like ibuprofen and naproxen can help. When they dont, I may recommend short-term use of stronger, prescription pain medicines.
Patients often ask about spinal injections where steroid medicine is injected into the affected area. It is worth considering for those with uncontrolled pain or for those with persistent, bothersome symptoms who want to avoid surgery. Injections can provide short-term relief. Like any procedure, it has uncommon risks including more pain, and it doesnt seem to decrease the need for future surgery.
How Is Lumbar Strain Treated
Specific treatment for a lumbar strain will be discussed with you by your healthcare provider based on:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- Extent of the injury
- Your tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, and therapies
- Expectation for the course of the injury
- Your opinion or preference
- Ice packs and/or heat and compression applied to the back
- Stretching and strengthening exercises
- Education regarding the use and wearing of appropriate protective equipment
Medicines, such as anti-inflammatories and spinal injections, may also be used to relieve pain and inflammation.
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Complementary And Alternative Techniques Include:
- Acupuncture is moderately effective for chronic low back pain. It involves inserting thin needles into precise points throughout the body and stimulating them , which may cause the body to release naturally occurring painkilling chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, and acetylcholine.
- Behavioral approaches include:
- Biofeedback involves attaching electrodes to the skin and using an electromyography machine that allows people to become aware of and control their breathing, muscle tension, heart rate, and skin temperature people regulate their response to pain by using relaxation techniques
- Cognitive therapy involves using relaxation and coping techniques to ease back pain
Spinal injections include:Trigger point injections can relax knotted muscles that may contribute to back pain. An injection or series of injections of a local anesthetic and often a corticosteroid drug into the trigger point can lessen or relieve pain.
How Is Back Pain Diagnosed
A careful evaluation of your medical history and a physical examination will help your healthcare provider determine if you have mechanical back pain. He or she will then work with you to create an appropriate treatment plan.
If your healthcare provider has determined your back pain is mechanical, additional testing is not usually necessary. If your symptoms or the examination suggest the possibility of infection, malignancy, or a pinched nerve, additional tests may be done. Additional testing may include blood tests, x-rays, computed tomography scan, magnetic resonance imaging and/or nerve conduction studies.
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Work With A Professional For Low Back Pain
Finally, seeking the assistance of an appropriately trained and licensed health professional for back rehabilitation and exercise is highly recommended. The back is a complicated structure, and specialists have a defined protocol to identify the cause of back pain. And its always important to see a physician if the lower back pain lasts for more than a few weeks or a month or if there are any symptoms that cause concern, as the continued pain and/or symptoms may signify a serious medical condition.
Ultimately, participating in developing and maintaining an active rehabilitation and exercise program for low back pain should help patients heal faster and have fewer recurrences of back pain.
When Can I Return To Work
Its usually recommend that you return to work right away. If you cannot do your regular job, it is in your best interest to return to some kind of modified duty . Your healthcare provider can give you a prescription for a limited period of modified work duty.
It is very common to be afraid to promptly return to work and other activities because of fear of re-injury. However, if you are receiving proper treatment, your risk of re-injury should be limited. It is in your best interest to return to a normal lifestyle promptly. Early mobility has been found to directly result in a more rapid recovery. Maintaining a positive mental attitude is also imperative to a quick recovery.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/22/2020.
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Tips To Make It Easier
Here are six tips I picked up that can make it easier for you, whether it’s your first or later back surgery:
1. Stay ahead of the pain. Pain is awful. It creeps into every aspect of your life. You’re cranky, annoyed, short-tempered, a real joy to be around. You’re not hungry, you find yourself immobile. And, worst of all, you’re not healing.
Pain actually stops the post-surgery healing process. So eliminate as much of the pain as you can. That means taking pain meds. And not just when you need it, but before you need it. Once the pain creeps in, it’s going to be a while before you get relief. So take the prescribed pain medicine as directed.
Worried about addiction? According to WebMD, people with no history of drug addiction using opioids as prescribed are “relatively unlikely” to become addicted. My surgeon conveyed a similar message. This is not chronic long-term pain you’re dealing with. This is postsurgical pain. Take your meds and allow your body to heal. Ask your doctor if you have concerns, and be sure to keep prescription opioids out of the hands of others in your home, especially teens.
2. Honor the fatigue. After four or five hours of surgery, your body has been through what Dr. John Starr, my surgeon from the Washington Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group in Washington, D.C., compares to a major car wreck. Your body feels that shock.
When Will My Lower Back Strain Feel Better
Recovery time depends on how serious your low back strain is. Mild cases may resolve in a couple of days. It can take many weeks for more serious strains. Remember that everyone heals at a different rate.
Once the back pain is gone, your doctor will probably want you to start a regular exercise routine. This will get your back muscles stronger and more limber. It will help you recover, and reduce your odds of low back strain in the future. Your doctor will probably want you to take up low impact sports, like swimming or using a stationary bike.
Whatever you do, don’t rush things. Don’t try to return to your previous level of physical activity until:
- You can move as easily — without stiffness — as you did before your injury.
- You feel no pain when you bend, twist, walk, run, and jump.
If you start pushing yourself before your low back strain is healed, you could end up with chronic back pain and permanent injury.
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How Long Does Lower Back Pain Last & What To Do For It
Lower back pain is a condition that affects so many people. It is estimated that about 80% of adults do suffer from lower back pain at some point of their lifetime. This problem is a work related disability and a major cause of absenteeism in most working places. Lower back pain affects both genders and can be felt in different intensities ranging from dull persistent pains to sharp pains that can immobilize a person.
Factors like accident, age, lifting of heavy materials and sedentary lifestyles can cause lower back pains. However, a bigger percentage of low back pain is termed as mechanical and is linked to Spondylosis which is the general degeneration of the spine in connection to wear and tear in bones, discs and joints as you grow old.
When Should I See My Doctor
Apart from the signs of a serious back injury, you should see your doctor if:
- your problems have not improved at all within a few days
- your problems have not improved completely within 6 weeks
Your doctor may be able to help you manage any pain and may refer you for physiotherapy or other investigations.
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Diagnosis Of Disc Problems
- taking a medical history to:
- determine predisposing risk factors and conditions
- identify any associated spinal nerve involvement
Investigations are carried out if:
- symptoms persist for more than six weeks despite remaining active, or
- there is concern the disc is affecting a spinal nerve.
What Home Remedies For Lower Back Pain Actually Work
Unless youve had a major injury, such as a fall or car accident, you probably dont need to rush to the doctor for back pain. You may want to try these simple self-care strategies first.
Avoid bed rest. When lower back pain strikes, people often think complete rest will relieve back pain. However, a review of many clinical studies found that patients who retreated to bed actually experienced more pain and recovered more slowly than patients who stayed fairly active
Use ice and/or heat. Many people find that using ice or cold packs for periods of up to 20 minutes at a time helps reduce pain and swelling. Always wrap ice or a cold pack in a thin towel before putting it on your body so you dont injure your skin. You may also find that heat, such as a heating pad or warm bath, eases pain. Ice is recommended in the first 48 hours after injury then you can try a combo of ice and heat.
Try over-the-counter remedies. Short-term use of OTC pain relievers, such as the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ibuprofen and naproxen, may ease your lower back pain. Also consider OTC creams, gels, patches, or sprays applied to the skin. They stimulate the nerves in the skin to provide feelings of warmth or cold in order to dull the sensation of pain.
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Treatments For Back Pain From A Specialist
A GP, specialist or physiotherapist may recommend extra treatments if they do not think your pain will improve with self-help measures alone.
These may include:
- group exercise classes where you’re taught exercises to strengthen your muscles and improve your posture
- manual therapy treatments, such as manipulating the spine and massage, which are usually done by a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath
- psychological support, such as cognitive behavioural therapy , which can be a useful part of treatment if you’re struggling to cope with pain
Some people choose to see a therapist for manual therapy without seeing a GP first. If you want to do this, you’ll usually need to pay for private treatment.
Surgery is generally only considered in the small number of cases where back pain is caused by a specific medical condition.
How Long Does It Take For A Strain To Heal
The majority of back strain pain will go away without help in one to four weeks. Of the cases that are seen in hospital emergency rooms, most can be dealt with conservatively. You must pay careful attention to easily seen warnings that can mean something more serious is going on.
If the pain lasts more than two weeks without at least easing up somewhat, you should seek medical attention. There may be a more serious injury to the muscles supporting the spine. These muscles include:
- Flexor muscles like the abdominal muscles
- Extensors like the gluteal muscles
- Obliques or side muscles
Overall, most acute occurrences of back pain resolve within twelve weeks, though about a third of patients could have long-term symptoms. Management of back strains depends on a lot of things, including:
- Type of symptoms
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At Home: Personal Hygiene
You’ll need to keep the surgical area dry for a few days post-surgery. Your nurse will tell you when you can shower. Baths are usually off-limits for a while. Use a shower chair or stool. You donât want to slip and further damage your back. Other tips: Get a raised toilet seat. This makes getting on and off the commode easier and safer. Elastic shoelaces, slip-on shoes, and reachers that help you pull up socks make dressing easier.
Symptoms Of A Pulled Back Muscle
Symptoms of a pulled back muscle depend on where the injury is. The spine is divided into three major sections: the neck, upper back and shoulders, and lower back.
For a pulled muscle in the neck, you might experience:3
- Pain in the neck and upper back area
- Limited range of motion in the neck
- Stiffness in the neck
- Pain radiating to the shoulders or arms
Pulled muscles in the shoulders and upper back may cause:
- Pain in the area between the spine and shoulder blade
- Muscle spasms in the upper back
- Knots and tightness in the upper back and shoulders
- Pain when moving the shoulders
In lower back strain injuries, many people experience symptoms such as:3
- Aching and stiffness in lower back muscles
- Pain that worsens with movement
- Pain that radiates to the hips and legs
- Limited range of motion
- Muscle spasms in lower back area
- Pain when sitting, standing, or walking
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Acute Low Back Pain Often Resolves With Self
Low back pain is one of the most common disorders in the United States. Approximately 80 percent of people will experience at least one episode of low back pain in their lifetime.
Most low back pain is mechanical in nature, meaning the pain is triggered by movement of the spine and the source of pain may involve the intervertebral discs, vertebrae, facet joints, nerves, or soft tissues. Less frequently, it may be due to an underlying medical condition.
According to the National Institute of Health, most low back pain is acute, or short-term, lasting a few days to a few weeks. With self-care, which includes a short period of rest, heat and cold therapy, exercise, stress relief, and over-the-counter pain medication, this pain tends to resolve without loss of function.
Acute pain lasts less than 4 weeks, whereas subacute pain lasts between 4 and 12 weeks. Approximately 20 percent of people with low back pain develop chronic low back pain .
Those with chronic low back pain experience persistent symptoms, even after an initial injury or underlying cause of pain has been treated.
When Should I Call My Healthcare Provider
- Youre unable to stand or walk.
- You have a temperature over 101.0°F
- You have frequent, painful, or bloody urination.
- You have severe abdominal pain.
- You have a sharp, stabbing pain.
- Your pain is constant.
- You have pain or numbness in your leg.
- You feel pain in a new area of your back.
- You notice that the pain isnt decreasing after more than a week.
Contact your healthcare provider immediately for the following:
- Pain radiating down the leg
- Pain that is accompanied by fever, weakness in the leg, or loss of control of the bladder or bowels
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When To See A Doctor
If the pain has not eased after 12 weeks, a person should see a doctor.
In some circumstances, a person may need to go to the emergency department or call 911. It is important to seek medical help if:
- a person hears a crack when they sustain the injury
- the injured part of the back is numb, discolored, or cold to the touch
- sit in a chair with lumbar support
The following tips may also be beneficial:
What Causes Back Pain
Lower back pain may feel like aching, burning or sharp or dull pain that fluctuates in intensity from mild to severe. It can be due to a sports injury, from twisting or lifting something heavy or from working in your yard.
Dr. Hwang says back pain can happen to anyone, but some factors can increase your risk, including:
- Age older adults may be more susceptible to osteoarthritis and disc deterioration
- Occupation employees in jobs requiring repetitive bending, heavy lifting or long periods of standing or sitting are more likely to suffer back pain
- Weight excess weight adds stress to the spine and back muscles
- Activity level having a sedentary lifestyle, as well as weak back muscles and lack of core strength, make it easier to injure your back
- Smoking habits smoking decreases blood flow, reduces your body’s ability to heal and increases the risk of osteoporosis
“Chronic back pain may be caused by a variety of underlying conditions,” explains Dr. Hwang. “From spinal arthritis to sciatica to herniated discs, a spine specialist has the expertise needed to pinpoint the cause of your chronic back pain and develop a treatment plan that may resolve the issue or at least improve your quality of life.”
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