Your "lumbar spine", or low back, is built up of five bones that are stacked on top of one another with a shock-absorbing disc that is found between every level. Your low back is dependant on muscles and ligaments for their support. "Sprains" and "strains" are created when these tissues being stretched too hard or too far, much like a rope that frays when it is stretched beyond its normal capacity.
The condition known as a "sprain" refers to when the tough, durable ligaments that keep your bones together have been damaged, while a "strain" is the result of when your muscles or tendons that move your trunk have been partially torn.
The majority of people will experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime, and 70% of those patients can trace their symptoms to sprain/strain injuries. Lumbar sprains and strains often are caused 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.
In the majority of cases, sprains and strains aren't caused by an isolated incident, but more commonly from repeated overloading.
Learn more about lower back pain and what it looks like to get pain free.
The spine will usually manage small isolated stressors relatively well, but repetitive challenges lead to injury in a very similar to when bending a piece of copper wire will cause it to break. Examples of these stressors often include:
- bad postures
- sedentary lifestyles
- poor-fitting workstations
- repetitive movements
- improper lifting
- being overweight
Symptoms that are caused by a sprain/strain may begin abruptly but more commonly develop over a long period of time. Symptoms can be known to range from a slight discomfort to a sharp debilitating pain that becomes more severe when you move. Rest may relieve your symptoms but also will often lead to an increase in stiffness.
The pain you feel is generally centered in your lower back but can also be known to spread towards your hips as well as your thighs. Be sure to inform your doctor if the pain you feel extends beyond your knee, or if you are experiencing weakness in your lower extremities or a fever.
Sprain/strain injuries cause your strong and healthy elastic tissue to be reformed with less elastic "scar tissue." This process can lead to constant and seemingly never ending pain and even arthritis. Patients who decide not to have any form of treatment and "just deal with it" develop chronic low back pain more than 60% of the time. Seeking treatment as early as possible and the high level treatment like the type provided in our office is critical.
Contrary to what you might think, spending a lot of time lying down might not be what is best for you.
You should remain active when possible and return to normal activities as your symptoms allow you too. The short-term use of a lumbar support belt may be helpful. Sitting makes your back temporarily more vulnerable and susceptible to potential sprains and strains from sudden or unexpected movements.
Be sure to take short breaks to relax from workstations for 10 seconds every 20 minutes. Following acute injuries, you can apply ice for 15-20 minutes each hour. Heat may be helpful after several days or for more chronic origins of pain. Ask your doctor for specific ice/heat recommendations. Some patients report partial relief from sports creams.