The most common cause of back pain is usually a muscle strain or muscle sprain and most of us, in our lifetime, will experience this at one time or another. These injuries or micro-injuries to the muscles, usually, occur due to strain to those muscles and they tend to recover on their own. The timeframe tends to be several days to 1-2 weeks.

Usually to support that, initial rest - just initial first day, perhaps two days, of reduced activity - but no more is required for that. Icing, heat, medications that reduce pain and inflammation, like over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, can be utilized, and manipulations and physical therapy tends to be very, very helpful - not only to alleviate the current symptoms, but also to actually reduce the rate of recurrence. So, in other words, in order to prevent this from happening again, we must make sure that the muscles are now fit to actually respond to the stresses that we’re applying to them.

Patients often wonder, “What’s a good timeframe; when is it important to see a doctor?” And, usually, these muscle sprains and strains will resolve within several days to 1-2 weeks. If by the time of 1-2 weeks, you don’t see a resolution or a trend toward resolution, that would be a good time to seek medical attention because this could be due to some underlying problem that will not resolve and should be addressed sooner rather than later.

Dr. Zinovy Meyler is a physiatrist with over a decade of experience specializing in the non-surgical care of spine, muscle, and chronic pain conditions. He is the Co-Director of the Interventional Spine Program at the Princeton Spine and Joint Center.

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