Soft tissue damage is what causes most instances of back pain or related nerve pain. If muscles that support the spine become overstressed or strained, soft tissues may become inflamed and irritated. In some cases, a pulled muscle results in minor discomfort. Other times it may produce more severe pain, or it might be nerve irritation causing the pain. Here’s how to tell if your back pain is caused by a pulled muscle.
Tissues Are Inflamed
Muscles that are pulled, strained, or stressed often become inflamed. While tissue irritation may develop immediately after a muscle is pulled, inflammation sometimes develops slowly as blood flows to the affected area and chemicals called bradykinin and histamine stimulate nerve endings.
You Experience Muscle Spasms
Inflamed muscles sometimes trigger involuntary muscle spasms. A pulled muscle won’t always contract. However, if you are experiencing muscle spasms, it’s likely you have an overstressed, strained, or pulled back-supporting muscle.
Your Pain Becomes Worse with Certain Movements
Pulled muscle pain will usually be more intense within the first few hours of sustaining this type of injury. You may also notice pain that gets worse with certain movements. For instance, discomfort may suddenly worsen if you bend, get up from a seated position to a standing position, or even with certain sleeping positions.
Moderate Pain Occurs Off and On for a Few Weeks
Pain from a pulled muscle may come and go for a few weeks until tissues fully heal. You might notice increased pain from actions or movements that place extra stress on the affected muscle, such as standing or sitting in the same position for a prolonged period. You may also experience tenderness or stiffness around the affected area.
Diagnosing Back Pain from a Pulled Muscle
Back pain from a pulled or strained muscle can usually be diagnosed based on a patient’s symptoms. X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans likely won’t be recommended unless there’s another suspected cause of your pain, or if you are not responding to initial treatments. Symptoms commonly associated with a pulled muscle include:
- Dull or achy lower back pain
- Decreased function, mobility, or range of motion in the affected area
- Difficulty walking, sitting, or standing
- Pain primarily relegated to the lower back area
Discomfort sometimes extends to the buttocks, thighs, or hips if the pulled muscle is in this area. For instance, a pulled or strained piriformis muscle, which starts in the lower spine and extends deep within the buttocks, may produce this type of discomfort. Pain that includes tingling sensations, warmth, or numbness suggests nerve pain, not muscle pain.
Most back pain caused by a pulled muscle responds well to home remedies. Start with ice to reduce inflammation, then do periodic heat applications to increase circulation and stimulate tissue healing. Avoid prolonged bed rest beyond 24-48 hours since this may weaken spine-supporting muscles and make pain worse. If you don’t notice improvement within a few weeks, see your doctor or a Los Angeles spine surgeon. If the affected muscle is torn, it may take several months to fully heal.
If you have been unable to find effective relief for your back pain, reach out to The Spine Institute. We specialize in a wide array of fusion procedures as well as back fusion alternatives. Los Angeles residents can call 310-828-7757 to schedule an in-person evaluation.