Most episodes of acute lower back pain are caused by damage to your soft tissues, or the muscles and ligaments that support your lumbar spine.
This type of injury is called a lower back strain, but it’s popularly referred to as a pulled muscle. The pain resulting from a lower back strain can be surprisingly severe, sending many patients to the emergency room.
Watch: Lower Back Strain Video
Our animated video on lower back strains can help you better understand this type of injury.
Your spine is made for movement: lifting, bending, twisting, and arching. The discs between the vertebrae enable this movement, but your muscles surrounding your spine power the movement.
The back muscles that power the movement of your spine, shown here in red, include the extensor, flexor, and oblique muscles.
These muscles are made up of individual fibers, seen here.
Movements that place stress on your back, such as lifting heavy objects, falling to the ground, or twisting while lifting can cause a fiber in one of your back muscles to become over-stretched or tear. This injury is called a lumbar muscle strain. When a ligament in your back tears it is referred to as a sprain.
Symptoms of muscle strain
Symptoms of a lumbar muscle strain may include tenderness in your lower back, the sudden onset of pain, and localized pain that does not radiate into your leg.
Lumbar muscle strains may be accompanied by muscle spasms as your body works to stabilize your injury.
The good news is that the initial pain from your lower back strain typically subsides in a short amount of time. The bad news is that low levels of pain or periodic flare-ups may continue for weeks or months after your initial injury.
After 2 weeks, back muscles can atrophy—shown here as a white area in the muscle—from lack of use. This may lead to additional pain.
Treatment options for lower back strain
Most back strain injuries heal on their own within 3 to 4 weeks. But to prevent your muscles from atrophying it’s best to engage in various stretches and strength building exercises after 1 or 2 days of initial rest.
Other treatment options for your pain include:
We hope this video helps you better understand lower back strain injuries. Keeping your back muscles well-conditioned and flexible with strengthening and stretching exercises will help you avoid this type of injury.