Understanding Low Back Pain
Your "lumbar spine", or low back, is constructed and built from five bones that are stacked on top of each other with a shock-absorbing disc between each level. Your low back is very much reliant on its surrounding muscles and ligaments for support. "Sprains" and "strains" are a direct result of these tissues being stretched too hard or too far, much in the same way that a rope frays when it is stretched beyond its normal capacity.
The term "sprain" means that the tough, durable ligaments that support bones have been damaged, while a "strain" refers to when your muscles or tendons that move your trunk have been partially torn.
It is very common to face back pain and the majority of people will experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime, and 70% of those patients can attribute their symptoms to sprain/strain injuries. Lumbar sprains and strains can often result from sudden or forceful movements like a fall, twist, lift, push, pull, direct blow, or quickly straightening up from a seated, crouched, or bent position. Most commonly, sprains and strains are not the result of any single event, but rather from repeated overloading.
The spine is very good at being able to manage small isolated stressors, but repetitive challenges often can lead to injury in much the same way that constantly bending a piece of copper wire will cause it to break. Examples of stress that can cause lower back pain include bad postures, sedentary lifestyles, poor-fitting workstations, repetitive movements, improper lifting, or being overweight.
Symptoms from a sprain/strain can begin very abruptly but in most cases will actually develop gradually. Symptoms can be varied from dull discomfort to surprisingly debilitating pain that becomes increasingly sharp when you move. Rest may relieve your symptoms in some cases but often leads to stiffness. The pain is generally localized in your lower back but can also spread towards your hips or thighs. Always try to notify your doctor if your pain extends beyond your knee, or if you have weakness in your lower extremities or a fever.
Sprain/strain injuries can cause your normal healthy elastic tissue to be lost and replaced with less elastic "scar tissue." This process can lead to an ongoing cycle of pain and even arthritis. Patients who elect to forego treatment and "just deal with it" are known to develop chronic low back pain in 60% of cases. It is imperative to seek early and appropriate treatment like the type provided in our office is critical.
Depending on how severe your lower back injury is, you may need to limit your activity for a period of time, especially bending, twisting, and lifting, or movements that cause pain. Bed rest is not in your best interest. You should only allow yourself to return to normal activities as your symptoms allow.
The short-term use of a lumbar support belt may help reduce your symptoms. Sitting makes your back temporarily more vulnerable to sustain a sprain or sprain from a sudden movement. It may be wise to take "micro-breaks" from workstations for 10 seconds every 20 minutes. Following acute injuries, you can apply ice for 15-20 minutes each hour. Heat may also be helpful after several days or for more chronic origins of pain. Be sure to inform your doctor of your exact situation and to ask for specific ice/heat recommendations. Some patients report partial relief from sports creams.