Fortunately, back muscle strains usually heal with time, with most healing within a few days and almost all resolving within 3 to 4 weeks. The large muscles in the low back have a good blood supply, which bring the necessary nutrients and proteins for healing to take place.
If the lower back muscle pain is severe, the patient may be advised to rest, but for no more than one or two days.
Initial Treatments for Pulled Back Muscles
Typical first line treatments include some combination of:
- Pain medication (such as acetaminophen), to interrupt transmission of pain signals to the brain
- Anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen, or possibly oral steroids), to reduce the local inflammation that is a cause of the pain
- Muscle relaxants, which may be prescribed on a short-term basis to relieve severe lower back pain associated with muscle spasms.
- Massage, which can help promote blood flow in the lower back (to help with healing), loosen tight lower back muscles, and release endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers.
- Chiropractic. Gentle manual manipulation is an option to help loosen tight back muscles and promote healing in the lower back.
- Ice or cold packs. Application of some type of cold pack can help reduce inflammation, which is helpful immediately following the injury.
- Heat therapy. Application of heat to the lower back is helpful longer term to stimulate blood flow and healing to the injured area.
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If an episode of low back pain lasts for more than two weeks, the muscles may start to weaken. Because using the lower back muscles is painful, the natural tendency for most patients is to avoid using them. However, lack of activity leads to disuse atrophy (muscle wasting) and subsequent weakening, which in turn causes more low back pain because the muscles are less able to help hold up the spine.
Back Exercises as Muscle Strain Treatments
As a general rule, people who are active and well-conditioned are much less likely to suffer from low back pain due to muscle strain, as regular exercise stretches the muscles so they are less likely to strain, tear, or spasm.
There are three types of muscles that support the spine:
- Extensors (back muscles and gluteal muscles)
- Flexors (abdominal muscles and iliopsoas muscles)
- Obliques or Rotators (side muscles)
While some of these muscles are used in everyday life, most do not get adequate exercise from daily activities and tend to weaken with age unless they are specifically exercised.
A complete exercise program for the low back should consist of a combination of:
Finally, a regular, sustained program of hamstring stretching will help reduce and prevent back muscle tightness and injury. The hamstring muscle runs through the back of each thigh. Tightness in this muscle limits motion in the pelvis which can strain the lower back. Regular hamstring stretching can gradually lengthen these muscles and reduce the stress felt in the lower back.