The terms “back strain” and “back sprain” are often used interchangeably. While the resulting pain is very similar, there is a slight difference in the type of injury involved with each one. Understanding what each type of back issue involves can make it easier to find a treatment that’s likely to work–and even help you learn what you can do to prevent future strains or sprains.
A back strain refers to muscles or tendons within the back area that have been stretched too far or torn to some degree. Muscles are thick bands of tissue that expand and contract to facilitate movement. Tendons are fibrous cords of tissue that connect muscles to adjacent bones. Injury to tendons or muscles can reduce how much support is provided to your back.
A back sprain specifically refers to stretches or tears that affect ligaments in your back. Ligaments are the tough bands of tissue that connect adjacent bones together within your joints. When the ligaments of your back are stretched too far, a sprain may occur. Affecting the lower back, lumbar sprains are the most common type of back sprain.
Signs of Back Strains and Sprains
Pain, bruising, and swelling are characteristic symptoms of both strains and sprains. With a back strain, damage to the tendon may trigger muscle spasms. With a back sprain, you may experience limited movement around the affected joint.
Treating Back Strains and Sprains
Most back strains and sprains will respond well to non-surgical treatments like the application of heat and ice or initial rest. If a strain or sprain is severe, image testing will be done to identify the extent of the damage or injury. Back surgery may be necessary to repair torn ligaments, tendons, or muscles.
Regardless of whether you sustain a back strain or sprain, it’s not something that should be ignored. Your risk of sustaining a strain or sprain can be reduced by taking the time to do a proper warm-up before exercising, lifting with your legs rather than your back, and being mindful of your posture while sitting and standing.
If back pain subsists after a period of rest and conservative measures aren’t providing adequate relief, reach out to the board-certified spine specialists at The Spine Institute in Los Angeles. We can diagnose the cause of your pain and review all possible treatment options. Call (310) 828-7757 and schedule an in-person consultation.