Low Back Pain: Lumbar Sprains and Strains

Low Back Pain: Lumbar Sprains and Strains

What are the causes of lumbar sprains and strains?

Lumbar sprains and strains are sometimes hard to distinguish. They are generally treated in the same way and have very similar symptoms, including:

  • Pain located mainly in the low back or upper buttocks, but not extending beyond the knee
  • Muscle tightness (spasm)
  • Pain that is aggravated by movements and relieved by rest

A lumbar strain occurs when the para-spinal muscles are pulled too hard, causing the muscle fibres to tear.  A lumbar sprain occurs when the ligaments that hold the bones of the spine together are pulled beyond their limits.

In an acute low back sprain / strain, the soft tissues around the spine (muscles and/or ligaments) are stretched and torn by a sudden, forceful movement; as a result, the surrounding muscles seize up (muscle spasm).  Muscle spasms are the body’s way to protect the site from additional injury by causing severe pain that limits movement.  A minor strain/sprain may recover within a few days.

If a sprain / strain does not heal well, it may develop into chronic or recurrent pain. A lumbar sprain/strain is considered chronic if it lasts for more than 3 months, and is an accumulation of past or repetitive injuries. As the body adopts pain-avoiding postures and develops other compensatory postural patterns, the involved muscles become further strained and weakened. The body is in a state of “de-conditioning”, where pain and weakness sustain each other in a vicious cycle.

Research has shown several factors that contribute to low back pain, including:

  • obesity
  • smoking
  • a sedentary lifestyle

What are the general treatment approaches for lumbar sprains and strains?

  1. Rest- Resting the affected area allows the injured tissue to heal.  Bed rest, if needed, is recommended only for the first two days: prolonged bed rest has been shown to lead to a worsening of the condition. Rest includes stopping any aggravating activity to avoid further irritation of the muscles.  Even after the pain eases, physical exertion should be avoided to prevent re-injury.
  2. Ice / Heat Cycle – In the acute phase (first 48 hr) you may place an ice pack on the affected area at 15 min intervals, 3 to 4 times a day. Icing reduces any acute inflammation and provides great pain relief.  After the acute pain eases, you may apply heat several times a day.  The heat improves blood circulation through the injured site, causes the muscles to relax and enhances issue healing. 
  3. Anti-inflammatory Medications – Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) may help to alleviate the symptoms of back pain, but they do have gastrointestinal (GI) side effects.  For this reason, NSAIDS should be avoided by individuals with stomach ulcers, as it may cause GI bleeding.

What is the chiropractic treatment approach for low back pain?

Learn about the chiropractic treatment approach for low back pain caused by lumbar sprains / strains.

* A proper diagnosis has to be obtained for all of the above conditions before an appropriate combination of treatments will be provided. This is just a list of possible treatments for the individual condition but not all of them may be necessary, nor is it limited to those listed only.

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