Most back pain is related to soft spine-supporting tissues that are irritated, inflamed, or overstretched. If ligaments are affected, it’s called a sprain. If muscles and tendons are affected, it’s a strain. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on any type of soft tissue irritation, since many people use both terms interchangeably. Here’s what you need to know about treating this source of back pain.
The initial goal when treating a sprained or strained back is to reduce the pain and prevent spasms, or involuntary muscle contractions. One of the first steps you can take is to rest or modify your activities to give the affected tissues time to heal. With rest, you don’t want to overdo it, since too much inactivity can weaken spine-supporting tissues, increase the burden being directly placed on your spine, prolong symptoms, and delay recovery.
Within the first 24–48 hours of your injury, your discomfort is likely to be due to tissue swelling, or inflammation. This happens because inflammation is the body’s natural response to an injury, but it can also irritate sensitive nerves and cause pain that extends from your back to nearby areas. One way to instantly reduce inflammation is with ice packs. If you use this method, remember to:
• Avoid direct skin contact
• Limit applications to 15–20 minutes at a time
• Consider alternating ice applications with heat to increase circulation and promote healing
Another way to relieve pain from a sprained or strained back within the first 24–48 hours is to apply pressure to the area with compression. You can do this with a lumbar support brace or a specially designed spine wrap, some of which have compartments where ice packs can be slipped in. The purpose of compression is to minimize movement, prevent further injury, and allow tissues to heal.
Pain and swelling can also be managed with the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Over-the-counter options include ibuprofen and naproxen. However, you should be cautious with NSAIDs and avoid long-term reliance because of potential side effects.
After you get past the first few days post-injury, it’s best to slowly and steadily return to activity. Taking it slow is beneficial because it strengthens the affected tissues and restores their ability to sufficiently support your spine. Gentle forms of exercise that can be safe and beneficial for a healing sprained or strained back include:
• Walking at a comfortable pace
• Low-impact workouts that target core muscle groups
• Water-based forms of exercise
The biggest potential complication associated with sprains or strains is the possibility of becoming habitually inactive. Doing so may lead to weight gain, reduced muscle mass, and decreased bone density and flexibility that could affect other parts of your body.
If your pain doesn’t go away after a few weeks, see your doctor or spine specialist for a specific diagnosis. If the pain is due to a bulging or diseased disc, treatment may include replacing the damaged disc through 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 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.