Back pain is often due to a “pulled” or strained muscle because of the abundance of muscles that either directly or indirectly support the spine. The lower spine area alone houses large paired muscles (erector spinae), muscles that help with bending (flexor muscles), and side muscles (obliques) that help with rotation and posture. Your specific treatment plan will vary based on the severity of your muscle strain. However, there are some common ways to treat a pulled back muscle.
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are designed to ease the tissue swelling and pain often associated with strained back muscles. Popular over-the-counter options include:
Pain medications provide relief by altering how pain signals are interpreted by the brain. Acetaminophen is a common over-the-counter option. If your discomfort is more severe, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain meds. However, certain pain medications are only meant to be used on a short-term basis because of addiction risks.
Despite their name, these drugs don’t directly affect the spine-supporting muscles. They ease discomfort by numbing or dampening pain receptors within the nervous system. Muscle relaxants are meant for short-term use, and they also present possible addiction risks.
When using ice and heat, start with the application of ice packs to the affected area for about 10–20 minutes at a time to ease muscle inflammation. After using ice packs for the first 24–48 hours, switch to heat packs or a heating pad. Heat provides relief by increasing circulation and stimulating the body’s natural healing processes.
Another way to increase circulation is with massage therapy. A gentle targeted massage can also relax the affected muscles around your spine, which may result in decreased pain and increased range of motion. Massage therapy also stimulates the release of chemicals in the body called endorphins that have a natural pain-relieving effect.
Neuromuscular therapy is a form of massage therapy that can be especially beneficial for a muscle strain in the lower back area. It’s a type of soft tissue manipulation that involves applying alternating concentrated pressure to the affected area.
As your pulled back muscle heals, avoid doing anything to reinjure it by adjusting your activities. Rest for a few days can be beneficial as well. Also, avoid heavy lifting and any activities that could place too much stress on the affected part of your spine.
Too much rest can actually weaken strained back muscles, so you’ll want to make an effort to get some type of exercise after a few days as your tissues begin to heal. Walking is a good option, since you can do it at a pace that’s comfortable for you.
As you continue to heal, other forms of exercise can also be beneficial for strengthening spine-supporting muscles. There are many spine-friendly options to consider. Some of these include:
• Back muscle stretches
• Hamstring, hip, and gluteus muscle stretches
• Stationary cycling or using an elliptical machine
• Water aerobics, swimming, and other water-based forms of exercise
Self-care methods for pulled back muscles are often effective. However, if you’re not experiencing relief after a few weeks, see your doctor or a Los Angeles spine surgeon. As for prevention, being mindful of your lifting techniques, getting regular exercise, and watching your posture are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of experiencing back pain due to muscle strain.
If you’ve strained a muscle in your back, these methods should begin to provide relief in just a few days. If your pain lingers or gets worse with time, it may be due to something other than a simple muscle strain, so make sure to see a spine specialist as soon as possible. The pioneering physicians at The Spine Institute have unmatched experience in treatments for back pain, including spinal fusion alternatives, lumbar disc replacement, and coflex back surgery. Los Angeles patients with severe or long-lasting pain are urged to give us a call today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation with one of our caring spinal health specialists.