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Low Back Strain and Sprain

Lumber (lower back) muscle strains and sprains are the most common causes of low back pain. The back is prone to this type of strain because of its weight-bearing function and involvement in moving, twisting and bending. Lumbar muscle strain is caused when muscle fibers are abnormally stretched or town. Lumbar sprain is caused when ligaments, the tough bands of tissue that hold bones together are torn from their attachments. Both strains and sprains can result from an injury or from gradual overuse.

When the lumbar spine is strained or sprained, the soft tissues become inflamed. The inflammation causes pain and may cause muscle spasms. Lumbar strain or sprain can be very debilitating.

Three types of muscles support the spine:

  • Extensors (back muscles and gluteal muscles)
  • Flexors (abdominal muscles and iliopsoas muscles)
  • Obliques or rotators (side muscles)

Common Symptoms

  • Low back pain that may radiated into the buttocks but does not affect the legs
  • Stiffness in the low back area, restricting range of motion
  • Inability to maintain normal posture due to stiffness and/or pain
  • Muscle spasms either with activity, or at rest
  • Pain that persists for a maximum of 10 to 14 days


Diagnostic testing usually is not necessary, unless pain has been present for more than two weeks and has not improved. If symptoms are persistent, your doctor will want to rule out underlying causes such as an undetected disc injury and may order the following tests:

  • X-rays to search for other potential causes of pain – tumors, infections, fractures
  • MRI to show the spinal cord, nerve roots and surrounding areas, as well as enlargement, degeneration or tumors


Bed rest may be recommended for a short period of time, usually from one to three days. Prolonged bed rest can lead to a loss of muscle strength and may increase muscle stiffness, adding to pain and discomfort. Sprain and strain are commonly treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication if the pain is mild to moderate.

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy. The therapist will perform an in-depth evaluation, which combined with the doctor’s diagnosis, will dictate a treatment plan designed specifically for your problem. Therapy may include pelvic traction, gentle massage, ice and heat therapy, ultrasound, electrical muscle stimulation and stretching exercises. Pain medication and muscle relaxants may also help in conjunction with physical therapy.

Source: American Association of Neurological Surgeons

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