Lower back strain – causes and treatments

Find out more about this common issue



BSc in Health Studies, Dip.Nut
@EarleLogan2
Ask Earle


16 April 2020

What causes lower back strain?

Muscle strain is caused by a tear in the muscles of the back or in the tendons that connect the muscles to the spine.

This kind of injury usually occurs after sudden impact, such as twisting or overstretching. This is most likely to happen when exercising, particularly if you are new to an activity or it is something quite strenuous like running. Lifting heavy objects can also place excess pressure on the spine, creating a risk of injury.

Over time, repetitive movements can also contribute to back strain. This is most applicable to people who exercise a lot and those with very physical professions such as laborers. However, don't forget that sitting for long hours can also take its toll on the lower back – pain and discomfort in the back is very common amongst office workers too.

Some additional risk factors for back strain include being overweight or obese and having poor posture.

What are the symptoms of a lower back sprain?

The most obvious signs of lower back strain are pain and difficulty moving. You may find it challenging to bend or walk normally, for example. There is also a likelihood that the area will become swollen, bruised or that cramps/spasms will develop.

What can I do to relieve my lower back pain?

1. It is important to avoid any strenuous activity if you have strained the muscles in your back. That being said, provided it doesn't cause any pain, gentle stretches and activities like walking can speed up healing.

2. The root of Devil's Claw is used in herbal remedies for the treatment of muscle and joint pains, backache and rheumatism. You can find this herb in our Devil's Claw Tablets.

Some research has suggested that regular painkillers including paracetamol only have a limited effect on lower back pain, so many people seek an alternative.1


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3. After suffering back strain it is advisable to apply ice to the area. This will help to relieve swelling and inflammation and can numb the pain. Wrap the ice in a cloth and hold to the area for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

If the area is still painful after a few days, switch to applying heat via a hot water bottle or heat pad wrapped in cloth. The heat will relax the muscles, increase blood flow and help to ease the pain.

4. Address sleep issues. Research has shown that sleep problems can reduce the prospect of recovery from lower back pain.2 Sleeplessness has also been linked with increased pain intensity, as well as the persistence of pain. The reason for this isn't entirely clear, though poor sleep could increase overall levels of inflammation in the body and could alter the way the brain deals with pain.

Our pages on sleep can provide some guidance on how to sleep better and improve the prospects for your back.

5. Try some gentle exercises to strengthen and loosen the affected muscles. Below I have suggested some simple exercises you can do at home; however, only push yourself as far as you're able to and do not go any further if it is causing you pain.

Stretch one

Begin by lying on your back with your arms and legs stretched out to the sides. Next, bring your right leg towards your chest and hug it in with your arms. Hold for a few seconds.

For the next stage of the stretch bring your left leg to your chest as well. Hug both legs to your chest for a few seconds and then roll slightly from left to right – this should feel like your back is getting a nice massage.

End by returning your right leg to the starting position, followed by your left leg.

Stretch two

Kneel on all fours with your palms positioned under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.

Begin by slowly tucking your chin towards your chest. At the same time push your stomach up towards the sky. Hold this position and then slowly bring your gaze up towards the sky whilst also tucking in your bottom and stomach. Flow through these movements for around a minute. You can place a cushion or folded up towel under your knees to reduce the impact here.

Stretch three

Again, start on all fours with your palms stretched out under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Now move your bottom towards your heels, taking care to keep your palms planted in front. Lower your head towards your chest when you lean back. Return to all fours.

Repeat this movement 10 times. It is very gentle and helps to stretch out the back.

How do you avoid back strain?

Now, I've looked at ways to deal with lower back strain, but what can you do in the future to prevent the problem?

  • Improve your posture by using a lumbar support when sitting. These are easily available online.
  • Reduce the likelihood of injury by stretching before exercising. Check out some of our exercise videos for suggestions.
  • Maintain a healthy weight by eating well and exercising regularly. Our recipe hub has loads of healthy meal ideas.
  • Take care when lifting heavy objects. Keep your feet hip-width apart and hold the item close to your body to ease the strain on your back. Try to avoid bending your back (use your whole body to lift the weight) and don't twist your body in order to bear the weight.

How long does a lower back strain take to heal?

Lower back strain usually heals in a matter of weeks. In this time, you should avoid any vigorous activity but follow simple stretches, walking and the exercises outlined above. If the pain hasn't improved after 6-8 weeks, it would be advisable to speak to your doctor if you haven't already done so.

An individual should see their doctor immediately if additional symptoms accompany their lower back pain, such as:

  • Numbness to the area
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain.

Results: How severe is your back pain?

References

https://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/350/bmj.h1225.full.pdf 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31801790 

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