September 14, 2021
Clinical contributors to this story
Craig Van Dien, MD Contribute to the topic, for example Physical rehabilitation.
If you have ever suffered back pain, you are not alone: According to the American Association of Neurosurgeons, 75% to 85% of Americans have experienced back pain at some point in their lives.
But knowing what is causing your pain can be challenging. “The most common complaint is that we characterize it as non-specific low back pain, which means that we have not yet determined the specific underlying cause of the person’s low back pain,” said Craig Van Dien, PhD in Sports Medicine and Physical Medicine, a rehabilitation physician at the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute. “In most cases, this is based on muscle pain or muscle strain.”
What is the cause of back pain?
Muscle strain or muscle strain is a common cause of back pain. This happens when you overuse or misuse your back muscles and damage your tendons or ligaments.
Anyone can pull muscles. Factors that may cause this problem include:
- Lack of exercise or not warming up before exercise
- Bad posture
- Sitting for a long time
Certain health conditions can also cause back pain, including:
- Herniated disc that may compress nerves
- Degenerative disc disease
- Autoimmune diseases and inflammatory diseases
- Osteoporosis or osteoarthritis
- Pancreatitis or kidney stones
- Infection and cancer, in rare cases
Back pain symptoms
If your back muscles are strained, your back may feel dull and stiff, accompanied by general soreness. Symptoms include:
- Pain worsens when moving, especially when bending or stretching
- Having difficulty standing upright
- Swelling or bruising in a specific area
- Severe or painful, usually confined to the lower back and buttocks area
- Cramping pain or cramps
In order to determine the cause of back pain, Dr. Van Dien said that it is also helpful to look for the absence of symptoms. “When a patient has back pain, and the pain is caused by the muscles, generally speaking, the examination does not find any type of findings, indicating that there is a nerve-based problem or something more important,” he explained.
Symptoms that indicate a more serious condition include:
- Fever, chills, or night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
- New bowel or bladder problems
- Pain spreading to the legs
- Pain that lasts more than a few weeks
- Severe pain that cannot be relieved by rest
- Weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is best to seek medical attention as soon as possible. “We don’t want you to ignore these symptoms. It is very important for your doctor to evaluate you and rule out any more serious conditions,” said Dr. Van Dien.
How to treat a strained muscle
Prevention should always be the primary goal:
- Maintain strong abdominal and back core muscles to help stabilize the spine and prevent back muscle strain.
- Lead a healthy lifestyle, including weight management and low-impact aerobic exercise to build muscle strength and prevent strains.
- Maintain a neutral posture when sitting or standing.
- When lifting objects, use leg muscles instead of back muscles to prevent back muscle fatigue and injury.
“After a few weeks of home care, muscle back pain usually disappears,” said Dr. Van Dien. “Although it is generally believed that you must rest, early activity and walking after an acute back strain will help maintain muscle relaxation and prevent further tightness in the lower back. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs and alternating ice and hot compresses may help relieve The initial pain. Your doctor may also recommend a course of physical therapy.”
Next steps and resources:
The materials provided through HealthU are for general information only and should not replace your doctor’s advice. Always consult your doctor for personal care.