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Acute lumbar strain or sprain

The lower back or lumbar spine and is made of a stack of 5 block-like bones called vertebrae with a triangular bone attached underneath. These bones are separated by five oval cushions called discs made of cartilage with a softer substance in the center. The spine is surrounded by four round columns of muscles, and supported by ligaments which attach the bones together. Not only do these muscles help spinal movement, they protect the back, carrying some of the weight from the body above.

In the event of an unexpected sudden twisting movement, a lifting injury, or unaccustomed repetitive use of the low back, these muscles may become pulled or strained. The back feels stiff as result of the muscles tightening up and sometimes even going into muscle spasm. If the ligaments that attach to the back bones together become injured it is called an acute lumbar sprain.

Both lumbar strain and acute lumbar sprain injuries are treated the same and are hard to tell apart. For the first 24-48 hours, home care with limited activity, rest, gentle massage, and heating pads may provide relief. Over the counter pain medications such as Tylenol, naproxen or ibuprofen may also reduce pain and inflammation.

You should seek medical attention if you have unusual other symptoms (light headed, nausea, fevers, night pain). Especially severe pain, numbness or weakness in the legs, or difficulty with bladder or bowel control requires urgent medical attention. For severe muscle spasms, a prescription muscle relaxer or a stronger pain medication may be prescribed.

If the pain worsens or is not much better after 3-5 days, it would be a good idea to have a health care professional evaluate you. Frequent attacks also should be investigated as there may be abnormal structure in the back such as scoliosis or unstable spinal joints causing the problem.

Studies have shown that lowere back pain is very common. Most adults experience some form or another at least once in their lives. These injuries are most frequent in athletes and industrial workers, but are also frequent in individuals who are out of shape, and have weak low back and abdominal muscles. Lifting incorrectly is a major cause of injury to both the back muscles and discs. Although often severe, the pain usually is temporary and recovery over days or weeks is complete without permanent damage. In order to prevent another episode, many authorities believe that strengthening the ‘core muscles’ around the spine is very helpful.

Additional Resources:
Medline Plus
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