Lumbar Strain Injury
Serious athletes, moderately active people, and those with sedentary lifestyles are all equally susceptible to the pain of an occasional lumbar strain injury, or mild damage to the muscles of the lower back. But pain in the lower back doesn’t always result from muscle overexertion. There are several possible sources for both acute back pain (the kind that flares up and disappears after a while) and chronic pain (the kind that never fully goes away). These sources may be related to any of the complex and delicate nerves in the lower back, which distribute impulses throughout the lower body. They can also involve bones lesions or damage to the vertebrae and discs of the spine. And they can involve damage to any of the muscles in this area, which can range from a mild sprain to a complete tear. Unfortunately, some of these sensations aren’t easy to tell apart, and without a medical examination or a MRI or CT scan, a lumbar strain injury can be difficult to accurately diagnose.
If you experience chronic back pain that never seems to fully heal, or back pain that’s so intense it limits your movement completely, see a doctor. This also applies to back pain that happens after a trauma or impact that’s unrelated to your workout, like a car accident. In any of these cases, you may not be dealing with a simple lumbar strain injury at all, and your injury may not heal properly if you don’t get the treatment or surgery you need.
A Mild Lumbar Strain Injury: Symptoms
A simple lumbar strain injury can usually be treated at home, and if the injury receives the proper care and attention, it usually heals on its own within about three or four days. This kind of injury usually results in symptoms and sensations like the following:
1. Moderate pain (but not intense pain) and cramping in the muscles at the base of the spine
2. Tenderness to the touch
3. Limited mobility (but not complete immobility)
Lumbar Strain Injury: Possible Causes and Treatment
Self-diagnosing a moderate lumbar strain should also involve a review of recent events and activities that may have had an impact on the lower back muscles. These can include:
1. An extended period of inactivity or complete stillness, like a long flight.
2. A high intensity workout involving more stress and activity that the body is accustomed to.
3. A sudden intense motion during activity, like a tackle, a jump, a twisting motion, or a fall.
Any of these may be the cause of a lumbar strain injury. If any of these events have recently taken place and the pain in your lower back is unpleasant but manageable, treat the injury by taking the following steps:
1. Apply an ice pack to the area, like a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel to protect the skin. Place the ice pack on the tender area of the back and hold it there for twenty minutes at a time, repeating this process for about three to four hours each day. If a muscle in the area is torn, damaged or over extended, this can reduce swelling and fluid build-up in the area and dull the pain.
2. After three days of ice, use a heating pad or heat lamp to gently warm the area for twenty minutes at a time. This can loosen the tight muscles and increase blood flow. (Don’t fall asleep with a heating pad against your skin.)
3. Rest, but do so with care. Unlike muscle strains in other areas of the body, lumbar strain injuries don’t always respond well to rest and inactivity. In fact, too much stillness can sometimes make a back injury worse, and can bring on complications like blot clots, muscle weakness and depression. If you decide to stay in bed, do so for no more than two days. If you still can’t get up at that point, see a doctor.
4. Exercise. Again, lumbar strain injuries seem to respond better to mild exercise and motion than they do to complete immobility. As soon as the pain allows, engage in gentle, low impact activities like walking, swimming, and yoga. Mild stretching can keep the area flexible, increase blood flow, and speed the healing process.
5. To make necessary exercise less painful, and to speed to the return to normal activity levels, it’s okay to take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain killers, like Motrin and Aleve. Follow the instructions carefully and stay alert to possible side effects.
Preventing a Lumbar Strain Injury
An occasional mild lumbar strain injury may simply be part of modern life, since many people (especially between the ages of 30 and 50) tend to sit still for long periods during the day and then engage in intense activity once a week or so. Ideally, activity levels should stay relatively high and consistent from one day and week to the next.
When the body is flexible and in good condition, the core stays strong and the lower back provides support without the risk of strains and overexertion. So the best way to prevent a lumbar strain injury is by maintaining a consistent routine of cardio-based exercises, weight training, and stretching. Use gear (especially shoes) that are sturdy and in good repair. Warm up properly before cardio-focused activity, and during weight training sessions, pay attention to proper technique. Don’t complete any moves that twist or jerk the lower back, and immediately stop doing any move that causes pinching or cramping pain this area.
Most important, keep the lower back muscles strong, conditioned, and balanced. Targeted resistance and suspension training can help. Turn to the Kbands, KB Powerbands, and KB Duo, a simple set of lightweight, portable training tools that use sophisticated biomechanical principles to build strength and stability in the hips, back, limbs and core. For information about resistance training tools and how they work, take a look under the product tab towards the top of the web site. The site also offers workout tips, sports-specific training guidance, conditioning exercises, and injury prevention and rehab information for athletes and non-athletes alike.