Ahhh, summer is here! For many of us that means family vacations, catching up on outdoor chores and participating in lots of outside activities. Maybe you’ll work in the garden, paint your house or just play ball with the kids in the backyard. No matter what you are doing, remember to take care of your back.
Weekend warriors (or seasonal warriors) are at a higher risk of suffering from back pain than those of us who exercise regularly. Our muscles may not be conditioned to withstand the sudden stretching and pulling that we will subject them to. This sudden use of our muscles, tendons and ligaments can lead to back pain and neck pain.
Muscle sprains and muscle strains are the most common back injury, and may develop in response to our new found activity level. Muscle strain is due to the abnormal stretching, or tearing, of the muscles; lumbar sprain is caused when ligaments are torn from their attachments to the bone. These conditions can be caused by injury, improper lifting, or gradually from overuse. Once the muscles become injured, the soft tissue in that area becomes inflamed, pain and muscle spasms may occur. Fortunately, muscle sprains and muscle strains are not usually serious. I want to add here that back pain after an accident, slip or fall, or that does not get better within a few days should be evaluated by a physician for underlying causes.
Lumbar strain/sprain symptoms may include:
lower back pain that may radiate into the buttock, but not the legs
decreased range-of-motion, flexibility
inability to maintain normal posture
It is no longer believed that people with back pain caused by muscle strains or sprains should rest or stay in bed for extended periods of time. Actually, inactivity may have contributed to our injury in the first place. The lack of moving the muscles enough to keep them flexible and healthy caused the strain on them when you did use them again. We now know that movement contributes greatly to the healing process. Medical studies have shown that motion increases blood flow and nutrients to the injured areas, increases flexibility all while decreasing pain. The more we can move the easier it will be to do so. Alternately, lack of movement will make it harder and more painful to move later on. So, even though it may hurt, continue with your daily activities as best as possible.
The treatment for lower back strain and sprain are the same. If your pain is severe, your physician may prescribe several days of rest – no more than one or two, and pain medications. Your physician may recommend physical therapy. The therapist will perform an in-depth evaluation, based on your diagnosis, and design a treatment plan tailored specifically for you. The plan may include motion therapy, traction, massage, ice/heat, electrical muscle stimulation and gentle exercise.
Motion therapy may help with pain relief and rang-of-motion for those with muscle sprains and strains. Controlled motion has been shown to accelerate the healing process by decreasing inflammation and swelling, preventing scar tissue development, providing increased blood flow to the affected area which will deliver oxygen and nutrients, and most important, it has been shown to decrease pain, sometimes after just one session.