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Low Back Strain

What is low back strain?

Low back strain is an injury to your lower back muscles or tendons. Tendons are strong tissues that connect muscles to bones. The lower back supports most of your body weight and helps you move, twist, and bend.

What causes low back strain?

Low back strain is usually caused by activities that increase stress on the lower back, such as exercise or injury. The following may increase your risk for low back strain:

  • You have had low back strain before.

  • You lift heavy objects with your back instead of your legs.

  • You do not warm up before you exercise.

  • You sit or stand for long periods of time.

  • You are overweight.

What are the signs and symptoms of low back strain?

  • Low back pain or muscle spasms

  • Stiffness or limited movement

  • Pain that goes down to the buttocks, groin, or legs

  • Pain that is worse with activity

How is low back strain diagnosed?

  • X-ray: This is a picture of your lower spine. It is used to check for a fracture.

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your lower back. The pictures may show a fracture that is not seen on x-ray. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your lower back. An MRI may show damage to muscles or tendons. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is low back strain treated?

  • NSAIDs: These medicines decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs are available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and when to take it. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding and kidney problems if not taken correctly.

  • Muscle relaxers help decrease pain and muscle spasms.

  • Pain medicine: You may be given a prescription medicine to decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take this medicine.

What are the risks of low back strain?

Your pain may not improve with treatment. You may develop arthritis in your lower back. Your tendons may rupture (tear).

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Rest: You may need to rest in bed after your injury.

  • Activity: Slowly start to increase your activity as the pain decreases, or as directed.

  • Ice: Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your lower back for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as directed.

  • Heat: Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat on your lower back for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed.

How can low back strain be prevented?

  • Use correct body movements:

    • Bend at the hips and knees when you pick up objects. Do not bend from the waist. Use your leg muscles as you lift the load. Do not use your back. Keep the object close to your chest as you lift it. Try not to twist or lift anything above your waist.

    • Change your position often when you stand for long periods of time. Rest one foot on a small box or footrest, and then switch to the other foot often.

    • Try not to sit for long periods of time. When you do, sit in a straight-backed chair with your feet flat on the floor.

    • Never reach, pull, or push while you are sitting.

  • Exercise: Warm up before you exercise. Do exercises that strengthen your back muscles. Ask your caregiver about the best exercise plan for you.

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Ask your caregiver how much you should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • Your pain does not go away, even after treatment.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You hear or feel a pop in your lower back.

  • You have increased swelling or pain in your lower back.

  • You have trouble moving your legs.

  • Your legs are numb.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.