You’ve probably heard of or used the expression “I’ve thrown my back out” in reference to sudden spine-related pain. It’s a common saying, but it doesn’t literally mean your back is out of alignment. It’s simply a way of describing acute (sudden) back pain that instantly demands your attention because of its intensity. But what might be causing it? And what can you do about it?
The type of discomfort that might cause you to utter the phrase “I’ve thrown my back out” usually develops within the lower back area, and it’s often associated with some type of physical activity. For instance, you might have acute lower back pain (LBP) due to:
• Improper lifting
• Excessive spinal twisting, bending, or extending
• Aggravation of an existing lower back problem during physical activity
Muscle strains or spasms often contribute to acute and severe lower back pain. Discomfort of this nature may also be due to disc-related problems or underlying conditions such as arthritis that affects spinal bones and joints or supporting soft tissues.
Some people assume sudden back pain is due to a herniated or slipped disc. However, this is often not the reason a back is “thrown out.” Often, it’s a soft tissue problem related to overexertion or extension of certain spine-supporting muscles.
To make a positive diagnosis, your doctor or Los Angeles spine surgeon may ask you to describe when the pain was felt and what you were doing at the time. If a herniated disc—which occurs when inner disc material pushes outward and irritates a nearby nerve—is suspected, image tests will likely be ordered.
Acute lower back pain may simply go away on its own with a little rest, which includes taking a break from excessive physical exertion, especially anything involving your lower back. If this doesn’t help much, treatment suggestions might include:
• Applying ice to the affected area for 15–20 minutes at a time
• Alternating ice and heat applications to reduce swelling and increase circulation
• Taking anti-inflammatory medication (e.g., aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen)
With ice and heat, it’s best to start with ice applications during the first 24–48 hours after you experience acute LBP, as this allows the swelling to subside. After this initial period, switch to heat, which can be administered with a heating pad or even warm baths or showers. If your discomfort still isn’t going away, treatment may involve a customized physical therapy plan. Surgery could also become an option if a spinal disc is compressing a nerve and contributing to radiating pain extending below your waist.
Because “throwing your back out” is often associated with some type of physical activity or awkward movement, you may be able to prevent this type of back pain by taking certain precautions. For instance, it can be helpful to use proper lifting techniques when picking up heavy items. If you regularly bend or twist for work, a lumbar support belt can offer some extra lower back protection. Regular exercise that targets spine-supporting muscle groups can be beneficial as well.
If you’re having severe or persistent back pain, it’s best to consult an experienced spine specialist to receive a proper diagnosis and begin a customized treatment plan. Whether they need physical therapy or alternatives to spinal fusion, Los Angeles patients can trust the caring physicians from The Spine Institute to create personalized treatment plans to relieve their pain and get them back to doing the things they love. To schedule a consultation with one of our pioneering spine health experts, call us today at 310-828-7757.