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What to do if you pulled your back

If you strain your back during sports or lift a heavy weight incorrectly and abruptly, you can injure your muscles and ligaments, causing spasms that result in significant back pain. This condition is commonly known as “pulling your back.”

To determine if you have pulled your back: When the soft tissues in the lower back sustain injuries, the lumbar region usually becomes inflamed. This often leads to swelling, which is the body’s natural response to injury as it directs blood flow to the damaged tissue for healing. Inflamed muscles contract strongly, causing spasms that result in intense pain.

According to Dr. Sofia Gevorgiz, an orthopedic traumatologist: Typically, patients who pull their back experience sharp pain in the thoracic or lumbar region of the spine. Additionally, the range of motion becomes severely limited. Active physical exercises such as bridges are no longer possible.

The most intense pain is felt in the first few days. During this time, it is normal to experience sharp discomfort with certain movements, such as bending. Constant mild pain and stiffness are usually felt for one to two weeks as the muscles heal.

Typical symptoms of a pulled back include:

  • Dull, aching pain in the lower back, which may also be felt in the buttocks or thighs since their muscles assist in supporting the lower back.
  • Tension and pain in the lumbar muscles.
  • A burning sensation and intense warmth in the lumbar area.
  • Increased pain with movement, occasionally radiating down the legs and causing calf and foot discomfort.
  • Stiffness and difficulty walking.
  • Tenderness and inflammation in a specific area of the back.
  • Muscle spasms—sudden contraction of muscle fibers in the lower back, resulting in intense pain.

Immediate steps to take: According to Dr. Sofia Gevorgiz, there is no need to panic because “pulling your back” refers to pronounced muscle spasms, which are not as dangerous as they may seem. You should schedule an appointment with a doctor and, while waiting, take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in the appropriate dosage for your age and rest.

To reduce inflammation that occurs shortly after a muscle injury, apply an ice pack or another cold object for 10-20 minutes, placing a towel or cloth between the ice pack and the skin for protection. Heat compresses can enhance blood circulation, relieve muscle tension, and speed up recovery. In the morning, you can use a heating pad on the lower back for 10-15 minutes. It is best to start heat therapy 48 hours after the injury and ensure there is a layer of fabric between the compress and the skin to prevent burns.

Treatment for strained back muscles typically involves a combination of muscle rest and non-invasive methods. Initially, NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen are often used to reduce inflammation and pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers like paracetamol can also alleviate pain by interfering with how the brain interprets pain signals.

To reduce muscle spasms, a doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants that decrease muscle tone. These medications dull pain receptors in the central nervous system. It is important to note that muscle relaxants can be habit-forming.

Who to seek help from: If you injure your back muscles, you should consult a neurologist or an orthopedic traumatologist. The primary concern is to rule out neurological pathology.

You can seek assistance from an orthopedic specialist through your health insurance (OMS), but only with a prior appointment and a referral from a general practitioner. According to an information portal on OMS, due to their specialization, you may have to wait 1-2 weeks to see them.