Low Back Sprains and Strains
Most of our body weight is borne by the lumbar spine. Ligaments, tendons and muscles provide the requisite flexibility and stability to the spine. Excessive physical demand may put mechanical stress on these soft tissues and result in low back sprain or strain. Some of the most common activities and movements that may result in stress on these soft tissues are:
- Lack of adequate warm up exercises prior to the sports
- Lifting a very heavy object
- Twisting and bending at the same time
- A fall
- Bending forward too much (excessive flexion)
- Bending backward too much (excessive extension)
- Pulling or pushing
Sprain is an injury to the ligament caused by stretching it beyond its optimal capacity. It may even result in a tear of the ligament.
Strain implies damage to muscle or its attached tendon when it is stretched beyond its capacity and in extreme cases may even result in the tear of the muscle.
A sprain or strain may result in excruciating pain associated with sensitivity to touch, localized swelling and stiffness in the affected area. It may result in low back spasms and the pain may be felt even in the buttocks and /or legs. In a few rare cases it may result in loss of bowel or bladder function which requires immediate medical attention.
An accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment of a low back sprain or strain. To achieve this the doctor will ask about your symptoms, time of their appearance and the treatments used. Diagnosis will also include medical history and physical and neurological examination.
Neurological examination is done to indicate any neurological injury and involves evaluation of reflexes and muscle weakness by various tests. To confirm the diagnosis the doctor may order an X-ray or a CT scan. Rarely, an electromyography may be ordered if a muscle problem is suspected.
Although the pain in a low back sprain or strain is excruciating, in most cases non-operative therapies are sufficient. Non-operative therapies include rest, activity modification and ice pack applications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS’s may also be prescribed to reduce pain and swelling. Physical therapy, chiropractic or acupuncture may also be helpful in some cases.
In order to prevent low back sprains and strains the following points should be remembered:
- Maintain good body posture and body mechanics
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Eat a healthy nutritious diet
- Perform regular stretching and strengthening exercises
- Quit smoking