A pulled muscle is caused by straining, overstretching or tearing one of your muscles, causing poor range of motion and pain in the affected area. When you pull a muscle in your back this often limits your ability to perform basic activities like lifting objects, bending or even getting out of bed.
There are two major types of lower back strain. Muscle strains occur when you tear, overstretch or otherwise damage the muscle fibers. A lumbar sprain is caused when you tear or overstretch the ligaments or the tough, fibrous tissue that connects your bones and joints to your muscles. In general, the prognosis and treatment for these two types of lower back strain are the same.
Causes of Pulled Muscle in Lower Back
Several causes can contribute to lower back strain. Your muscles often become strained when they are forced to support your body weight for a long period of time, so those that sit in one position for long periods of time or tend to sit or stand for several hours at a time are quite susceptible to this condition. Having poor posture, lifting things with poor technique or lifting objects that are too heavy will also put more strain on your back, increasing your risk of muscle strain. Overusing your back muscles by performing repetitive movements such as back exercises can lead to back strain as well. Falling or twisting your back in an abnormal fashion can also cause an injury or strain.
Symptoms of Pulled Muscle in Lower Back
- Pain. You may notice pain in the lumbar region which may feel like an ache or throb, though the specific level of this pain will vary based on the severity of the injury.
- Swelling. A pulled muscle may cause blood to rush to the area to aid in the healing process, leading to swelling in the affected area. This is more common with a considerable tear or strain.
- Spasms. As the pulled muscle swell it can suddenly contract, leading to spasms in the area. These should dissipate as the back heals.
- Stiffness. As an attempt to protect your back from further injury your body will cause the affected muscles to become stiff to limit motion.
- Bruising. If a muscle tears it can cause a rupture that may cause blood to collect beneath the skin leading a bruise to appear, though this does not occur with all muscle tears.
When to call a doctor
If your condition does not improve after 72 hours with self-care, you experience severe weakness, the pain is very severe or unbearable, the pain radiated down your legs, your legs develop a numbness or tingling sensation or you lose control of the bowels or bladder you should seek medical attention right away. These symptoms indicate that there is an underlying problem that may be more severe than a pulled muscle causing your discomfort.
Remedies for Pulled Muscle in Lower Back
1. Avoid movement
Bed rest in the 48 hours after a sever muscle strain is encouraged to limit pain, inflammation and muscle spasms. After this initial rest you should return to normal activities only avoiding activities that cause you pain in the injured area.
2. Find comfortable positions
Sleeping on your stomach when you have pulled a muscle in the back can increase your discomfort over time. Instead lie on your back with a pillow beneath the knees, lie on your side with a pillow between the knees or lie on the floor while resting the legs on a chair at a 90 degree angle.
3. Cold application
Applying a pack of frozen peas or an ice wrap in the initial 24-48 hours after your injury can help to minimize pain and swelling. Place the ice pack on the injury for 15-20 minute intervals every 3-4 hours for two days for best results. Using a compression wrap to apply a cold pack will help to reduce inflammation.
4. Hot application
After you have applied a cold compress apply a hot compress, electric heating pad or hot water bottle to the area for 15-20 minute intervals every 4-6 hours to increase blood circulation to the area. Moist heat such as a towel soaked in hot water is more effective for relaxing strained muscles than dry heat. Do not use a heating pad if you are diabetic and do not sleep on a heating pad as this can increase your risk of burning the skin.
5. Pain relievers
Over the counter pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen or naproxen can be taken to help relieve pain in the back. Your doctor can also prescribe medications to reduce tightness or spasms in the back if necessary. Follow any directions for the specific medications you are using to reduce your risk of side effects.
6. Cream and ointment
Some patients find that applying a cream containing menthol, eucalyptus or camphor can reduce pain and inflammation in the back. Instructions for how to use these products should be outlined on the label.
7. Resume activity
While you should rest for the initial 48-72 hours, remaining immobile for a long period of time can cause muscular weakening, muscular atrophy or bone calcium deficiency that can increase the discomfort. Avoid activities that cause you to bend or twist the torso for the first 4-5 weeks to avoid re-injuring the muscles.
8. More tips
In the future use proper body mechanics when lifting or exercising to avoid causing yourself further injury. Exercise regularly to ensure that the muscles are toned, so that you can reduce the risk of re-injury. Use a back brace, seat cushions and back supports to take the strain off the back muscles and wear shoes that fit properly to offer your back plenty of support.