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Treating Your Lumbar Muscle Strain

Nearly everyone experiences low back pain at some point in their life; in fact, only the common cold causes people to miss more work in the U.S.

Muscle strains and lumbar sprains are the most common causes of low back pain. A low back muscle strain occurs when the muscle fibers are abnormally stretched or torn; a lumbar sprain occurs when the ligaments, the tough bands of tissue that hold bones together, are torn from their attachments. Differentiating a strain from a sprain can be difficult, as both injuries will show similar symptoms. In general, it doesn’t matter what you call the problem because the treatment and prognosis for both back strains and sprains is the same.

Treatment of a lumbar muscle strain is important to understand. Once you know the cause of your symptoms, you can proceed with treatment. If you are not sure of the cause of low back pain, it’s essential that you are evaluated by a physician. There are low back conditions that require immediate treatment.

Step 1: Rest
Resting the back allows the inflammation to subside and controls the symptoms of muscle spasm. Bed rest should begin soon after injury, but should not continue beyond about 48 hours as it’s just as important to not allow the muscle to become weak and stiff. Once the acute inflammation has subsided, some simple stretches and exercises should begin (see below).

Step 2: Medications
Two groups of medications are especially helpful in treating the acute symptoms of a lumbar back strain. Anti-inflammatory medications help control the inflammation caused by the injury and also help to reduce pain. There are many anti-inflammatory options, so talk to your doctor about what medication is appropriate for you.

The second group of medications includes muscle-relaxants. For patients who have back spasm symptoms, these muscle relaxing mediations can be a very useful aspect of treatment. These medications are often sedating, however, so discuss their use with your doctor.

Step 3: Physical Therapy/Exercises
Proper conditioning is important to both avoid this type of problem and recover from this injury. Stretching and strengthening the back muscles helps control the inflammation and better condition the lumbar back muscles. The exercises should not be painful. Without some simple exercises, the low back muscles can become "deconditioned," or weak, making it very difficult to fully recover from low back injuries.

Know that even if you are in "good shape," you may have weak low back muscles. When you have a low back muscle injury, you should perform specific exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles of the low back, hips and abdomen. These exercises are relatively simple, do not require special equipment, and can be performed at home.

Step 4: Further Evaluation
If symptoms continue to persist despite treatment, visit your doctor for further evaluation. Other causes of back pain should be considered, and perhaps x-rays or other studies may be needed to make an accurate diagnosis.

For more information or to make an appointment with a physician at Southern Orthopaedic Specialists, call (770) 953-6929.

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