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What is Back Strain?


Updated June 11, 2014

Question: What is Back Strain?
The low back is involved in nearly everything you do, and therefore is susceptible to injury.
Answer: A back strain occurs when you injure one or more muscles that move the spine. Most of the time, back strains are caused by lifting heavy objects with a bent spine. They might also be caused by motion done without control, as in wild dancing or other types of movements with abandon.

Back strains are considered mechanical in nature. This means that the pain they cause is due to stimulus to nerves specifically designed to pick up pain signals. The inflammation that develops in response to the injury provides most of the stimulus for the pain.

Among the most common of back injuries, back strain differs from other spinal problems because it does not affect your nerves. It will not cause pain down the leg (sciatica) or down the arm. Instead, you will experience muscle spasm and a decrease in flexibility, or range of motion. Your reflexes will be normal, as will your sensations. However, your joints will seem guarded by your tight muscles, and moving them will be painful if and when you let that guard down (i.e. relaxing the muscles and moving without being careful). If you hurt your low back, the pain will be limited to that area, and may possibly go into your buttock area.

Experts and doctors recommend modified activity as the quickest way to get over back strain. You should avoid heavy exertion for the first few days, and you can ice the area, and take aspirin to help control inflammation.

Muscle relaxants may be helpful if the pain persists. They have the advantage of reducing pain enough to let you get going with your physical therapy (the real progress maker). But at least one study has shown that overall, muscle relaxants slow recovery by 19 percent.


Back Strain Treatment. Medline Plus Encylopedia. Last updated: Oct 2005. Accessed July 10, 2007.

Magee, D.J. Orthopedic Physical Assessment. 4th edition. Saunders Elsevier. 2006. St. Louis, Mo.
Cluett, J, MD. Low Back Strain. About.com. May 2004. Accessed July 10, 2007.

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