Back pain is so common that it actually affects 80% of Americans at some point in their lives. The most common pain is in the lower back, but you can get middle or upper back pain as well. Most people experience acute back pain or pain that lasts only a few weeks, while others can have chronic back pain lasting 3 months or longer.
A back strain is the most common cause of back pain, and occurs when muscle fibers in the back are stretched or torn. A back strain can happen during just about any type of vigorous activity, from sports and exercise to lifting heavy objects, or even doing gardening or housework.
The most common symptoms include pain and stiffness in the back. It isn’t uncommon for the pain to enter the buttocks or the backs of the legs. Usually, the pain gets worse when you do anything that engages those inflamed muscles: bending and stretching, or even coughing and sneezing.
Most cases of acute back strain heal on their own, given time. To speed up recovery, apply ice to your back as soon as the injury occurs to reduce pain and swelling. This should be done for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days. It is then recommended to switch to heat, as some doctors advise to alternate heat and ice. In addition, anti-inflammatory medications can help with pain and swelling. Some medications include ibuprofen, naprosyn, and aspirin. If the pain is really bad, your doctor may prescribe a narcotic pain reliever like Percocet and a muscle relaxant, as well.
Recovery time depends on how severe your low back strain is. Mild cases may resolve in a couple of days, while it can take 4-6 weeks for more serious strains. It is important to remember that everyone heals at a different rate.
Can you exercise in the interim? In the first few days, it’s better to rest your back. This does not necessarily mean lying in bed all day, but instead it is important to limit strenuous activities. With time however, you can start doing back exercises or get physical therapy to help strengthen those muscles, ligaments, and joints in the back to help prevent another injury.
As far as prevention goes, knowing your own body is very helpful. If you’re doing an activity and you can sense that it’s putting too much strain on your back, stop and take it easy for a few days. As mentioned earlier, back exercises are important.
In addition, there are some easy tips that can help prevent future back pain. When picking up something heavy, bend at the knees, not at the waist. Lose weight if you are overweight. Work on having a good posture. Sit straight in chairs, with your back against the chair’s back.
Back to Headlines