Low back pain is all too common and at least three-fourths of the general population will experience this type of pain at some point in their life. When that nagging low back pain fails to go away on its own, you may begin to wonder if it’s something beyond a bad mattress.

The back contains a series of muscles and ligaments, which help hold the spine column in place. When you stretch these muscles too far, you cause tiny tears in the tissue. The straining can cause the muscles to weaken, causing the spine to become more unstable and cause low back pain. Lower back pain is the number one cause of missed days of work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Types of Lower Back Strains

A strained back may not sound like a serious problem, but when it’s causing you to miss work and complete everyday activities, it is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

There are two types of lower back strains:

  • Muscle strain – This type of strain occurs when a back muscle is overstretched or torn and damages the muscle fibers. A muscle strain may also be called a muscle pull.
  • Lumbar strain – When the ligaments in the back are stretched too far or torn, the result is a lumbar strain. Ligaments are fibrous, connective tissues that join two bones or cartilages or holds together a joint.

Causes of a Pulled Back Muscle

Movements that cause you to overstretch your back can cause a pulled back muscle or lower back strain. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Falling
  • Bending or crouching improperly
  • Lifting heavy objects incorrectly
  • Sports injuries

Sports that involve twisting motions, such as baseball or golfing, can quickly cause a pulled back muscle or strained back.

Lower Back Strain Symptoms

If you are suffering from a pulled back muscle or lumbar strain, you are likely to experience the following symptoms:

  • Sudden lower back pain
  • Stiff back
  • Pain that worsens when bending and stretching
  • Tenderness in the lower back
  • Muscle spasms

Another common sign of a lower back strain or pulled back is that the person usually feels better when they are laying down. Many find it difficult to stand or walk.

Diagnosing Pulled Back Muscles

As some of the symptoms of a lower back strain are similar to other serious conditions, you will have to undergo a thorough exam to determine if you’ve pulled or strained a muscle. X-rays, MRIs or CT scans may also be required to diagnose the issue.

If you are diagnosed with a back strain or pulled back muscle, your doctor can provide a treatment plan to help to recover and alleviate the pain. An examination and imaging tests can also help diagnose any serious spinal conditions that could be the underlying cause of your lower back pain.

Treatments for Lower Back Strains

Conservative treatments will be used first to treat your lower back pain. Some of these treatments include:

  • Cold/hot therapy
  • Rest
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Using back support, at work, in the car, etc.
  • Physical therapy
  • Exercises to strengthen the back and core
  • Massage therapy

Most back strains heal over time, some can quickly heal within a few days, but others can take weeks of conservative treatment.

Prevention Tips

Although lower back pain and injuries are common, you can still protect yourself from suffering from a strained back. Below are some of the ways you can protect your back from injury.

  • Exercise. No matter your level of fitness, exercise can provide many benefits. If you want to protect your back, incorporate some back and abdominal exercises into your routine.
  • Work on your posture. Try to maintain a proper posture when you’re sitting at your computer, standing and driving. A back support cushion or backrest can help you keep proper posture while seated in your car, at your desk, or at the dining room table.
  • Sleep in the best position. The best sleeping position is on your side so avoid sleeping on your back or stomach.
  • Eat right. Maintaining good eating habits can help you maintain a healthy weight, which means you’re putting less stress on your back and body.
  • Lift heavy objects correctly. You should be squatting down and lifting with your knees, not your back.
  • Be a smart athlete. Whether it’s golfing, baseball or dance, be sure to warm up properly and stretch before and after. Also, don’t overdo it and know your limits, especially if you’ve been injured before.