The pain from a pulled back muscle can range from merely irritating to intense and debilitating.
Most cases of low back muscle strain start to abate within a couple of hours or days and do not lead to long-term problems. If pain has continued for more than a week or two, or if it is severe enough to disrupt daily activities, seeking medical attention is warranted.
Common Symptoms of a Pulled Back Muscle
Symptoms to expect from a pulled lower back muscle—or any type of lower back strain—typically include:
- Dull, achy low back pain. Strained muscles usually feel sore, tight, or achy. Pain that feels hot, tingling, or electric is more likely caused by an irritated nerve root, not a pulled muscle.
- Intensified pain with movement. Low back strain typically worsens with specific movements that activate the affected muscles. For example, there may be a flare-up of pain when getting up from a seated position, when bending forward, or when first getting out of bed in the morning.
- Pain that is localized in the low back. Pain is usually concentrated in the lower back. It may also be felt in the buttocks and/or hips, as these muscles help support the low back. Rarely does pain travel down the legs and into the calves and feet, as in cases of sciatica.
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- Stiffness, difficulty walking or standing. Typical movements may be limited when a low back muscle is strained, making it difficult to bend, shift positions, or walk or stand for extended periods.
- Local tenderness and inflammation. A muscle strain may become inflamed and feel tender to the touch. Muscle spasms and cramps can cause intense pain and temporarily limit mobility, as the affected area in the lower back may be swollen for a few days.
- Pain relief when resting. Briefly resting the low back muscles allows them to relax, alleviating tension and spasms. Reclining in a supported position, such as sitting in a recliner with legs elevated or lying in bed or on the floor with the knees slightly elevated, may temporarily reduce pain. Pain will likely intensify when getting up to move again.
A common underlying component of the intense pain associated with a lower back muscle strain is from muscle spasms. The acute contraction of muscle fibers in the lower back, which are intertwined within and around an extensive network of nerves, can cause intense pain. This pain is often described as surprisingly severe.
Pain from a muscle strain or pulled muscle usually comes on suddenly and can be linked to a specific event or activity. The severe pain tends to resolve within one to two weeks.
It is not uncommon to feel a lower level of pain with intermittent pain flare-ups for up to 4 to 6 weeks after the initial injury.