What Is A Pulled Back Muscle?

Lower Back Strain

The medical term for a pulled back muscle is strain. It is not a lower back sprain.

So what's the difference between a lower back strain and  sprain?

Strain vs Sprain

Oftentimes the words strain and sprain are use interchangeably by the patient or lower back pain sufferer to denote back pain which is usually attributed to a lifting type of injury.

In fact, strain and sprain are two entirely different injuries. A strain, as already mentioned, is a muscle tear. Whereas, as sprain involves ligament tear or joint injury. They are both tears but to different tissue.

When the muscles of the lower back are injured the diagnosis is: lumbar strain.

If the lower back injury involves a joint, such as the sacroiliac joint for example, it is termed a sacroiliac sprain. Or, in the case of lumbar facet joints the appropriate term would be: lumbar facet sprain.

As is often the case, when one suffers a sprain there is often a muscular injury (strain) as well.

However, a strain (pulled back muscle) is almost always purely a muscle injury with no ligament or joint involvement... at first.

When a  pulled back muscle is not properly treated and rehabilitated, there will most often eventually end up being a joint component as well. If the strain is not corrected then the normal joint mechanics will be disrupted and this will result in chronic joint irritation and subsequent wear and tear. Along with the wear and tear there will be reactive inflammation. With advanced disc, or other joint degeneration, the ligaments will undergo damage due to the abnormal joint mechanics and attendant inflammation (micro-trauma).

However, these micro-tears or trauma often go unnoticed until the condition becomes advanced. This will then cause eventual joint degeneration (arthritis) with its associated pain.

With the advent of MRI it is easy to identify ligament damage (sprain) from muscle tear (strain). Unfortunately this will also make it easier for the doctor to order expensive MRI testing when an appropriate history and thorough examination will usually do the same.

How A Pulled Back Muscle Happens

A pulled muscle can occur when:

  1. A normal muscle is subjected to an abnormal load.
  2. A normal muscle is unprepared for a normal load.
  3. An abnormal muscle is subjected to a normal load
  4. An abnormal muscle is subjected to an abnormal load.

The abnormal muscle may be one that is weak (relative to the load), imbalanced compared to the opposite side, harbor trigger points or perhaps lacks the endurance for sustained loading.

This can happen from:

  • Sports injuries.
  • Falls.
  • Auto-accidents.
  • Common daily activities.
  • Work related injuries.

A condition that is often mistakenly diagnosed as a lumbar strain is a facet syndrome.

The most common way to distinguish a facet syndrome from a lumbar strain (pulled back muscle) is through a proper history and examination.

A simple range of motion analysis can be very reliable and accurate. Try this:

  • If the pain is worse with extension (backward bending) and minimal or absent during flexion (forward bending) then the injury is most likely a facet syndrome.

  • If the pain is worse with trunk bending and not much affected by extension the most likely diagnosis would be a lumbar strain or a pulled back muscle.

Treatment For A Mild Lower Back Strain

Most strains will heal on their own in 7-14 days. If the pain persists, or increases in severity, you should consult with your chiropractor to determine the cause and proper remedy.

The best way to treat an uncomplicated, or minor, strain is with ice application for the first 72 hours, followed by warm moist heat. However, in some strains, where there is greater tissue damage, or tearing, ice may be needed for longer than 3 days.

Usually after 3 days heat can be applied.

Activity should be reduced for a few days but not halted. Bed rest should be discouraged. A lumbar strain will heal faster and better with mild activity. As symptoms permit your activity level should be increased.

Walking is by far your best exercise when treating a pulled lower back muscle..

Don't Be Fooled By The Promise Of Drugs

There is no evidence that medicines in the form of anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxing or pain killing drugs have any significant benefit in the outcome or speed of recovery.

At best they may suppress the symptoms. But when you suppress symptoms you risk further harm and damage. It gives the false feeling that you have healed properly and you may resume normal activities; therefor, you are more likely to cause more tearing and delayed healing.

All you have done is stopped the body from healing in a natural manner. Listen to your body and do not be fooled by drugs that only mask your body's natural monitoring.

Proper Rehabilitation Is Essential For Preventing Lower Back Injuries

The key, following healing of a pulled lower back muscle, is to rehabilitate your back with the ultimate goal of preventing recurrences.

Correct all imbalances in:

  • Function-muscles and joints.
  • Structure-posture.

This will be your first step in not only treatment but prevention as well.

If you do not consistently work at improving or maintaining normal strength, flexibility and endurance you will invariably consistently become weaker, less flexible and lack enough muscular endurance to perform your daily activities without sustaining further injuries.

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