“I’ve pulled my back!” If you’ve ever uttered these words, you’ve likely experienced a strain or sprain related to soft tissues around your spine. Specifically, it’s the lumbar or lower back area that tends to be affected most by strained ligaments or sprained spinal muscles. Lower back strains and sprains are further classified by severity according to three different grades, which are discussed below.
If your lower back strain or sprain is fairly mild or minor, it would likely be classified as grade 1. This is the mildest of the three grades, and it refers to simple or limited soft tissue damage affecting the lumbar spine. Generally, this means fiber damage is less than 10 percent. Grade 1 lumbar strains and sprains are typically associated with:
• Minor to mild discomfort
• Reduced range of motion within the lower back area
It usually takes 1–3 weeks for grade 1 strains or sprains to heal with nonsurgical treatments. Most people with spinal tissue injuries of this nature usually respond well to over-the-counter medication, controlled exercise, limited rest, and physical therapy.
When a spine-supporting ligament or muscle is moderately injured or partially torn, it’s referred to as a grade 2 strain or sprain. With injuries of this nature, fiber damage is within the 11 to 50 percent range. Related symptoms often include:
• Localized discomfort
• Swelling and/or tenderness
• Reduced range of motion
Grade 2 injuries are often related to repetitive motions, incorrect lifting, or athletic activities. Because these are essentially more severe grade 1 injuries, patients typically see improvements with the same treatments already mentioned above, although healing may take longer.
It may take anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months to fully recover from grade 2 soft tissues injuries. If you’re not experiencing relief beyond this point, talk to your doctor or a spine specialist.
Soft tissue strains or sprains affecting the lower back area are considered severe if they’re classified as grade 3 injuries, which means a spine-supporting ligament or muscle is severely torn or damaged. In some instances, there’s a complete tear with a grade 3 injury. Fiber damage ranges from 51 to 100 percent. Symptoms, which are usually very noticeable and disruptive, may include:
• Significant lower back discomfort
• Mobility issues
• Changes with walking, posture, or gait
Severe strains or sprains of this nature are typically associated with athletic injuries or some type of trauma, such as an auto accident or serious fall. It may take anywhere from several months to a year or more to fully recover from a grade 3 injury. In some cases, surgery may be necessary, although there’s often an effort to explore conservative treatments first. However, surgery may be recommended sooner if this type of intervention is needed to repair damage and allow for proper healing. For example, if the sprain or strain is accompanied by a damaged disc, treatment may include artificial disc replacement surgery. Santa Monica residents should make sure to consult a spinal health specialist if their back pain is severe or continues without relief for a prolonged period.
If you suspect you have a back strain or sprain, make sure to practice self-care, and don’t hesitate to consult a Santa Monica spine surgeon if your symptoms worsen or continue for more than a few days. The expert physicians at The Spine Institute lead the industry in diagnosing and treating neck and back pain with the most innovative methods and state-of-the-art technology. To schedule a consultation, call us today at 310-828-7757.