Lower Back Strain Treatment: Tips & Strategies

When you’re suffering from lower back pain, it’s often a matter of "hunt down the relief." This common pain can feel almost paralyzing, and make even the simplest moves a real challenge. It’s one of the most widespread ailments affecting many of us at least once in a lifetime.

It’s important to realize that lower back pain is okay. Your body can signal the start of possible issues in various ways, from mild discomfort to sharp pain in the back. To cope better with such situations and manage the overall health condition, it’s important to address the alerts timely and seriously. In this post, we’ll explore the practical ways to relieve lower back strain with exercises and tips to meet your pain relief needs. You’ll know how to ease the existing pain and prevent further issues.

What is a lower back strain?

Like any strain, a lower back strain is an injury to muscles or tendons, and can have varying degrees of intensity. It is sometimes referred to as a lumbar strain, because the lumbar region of the spine is in the lower back.

Back strains typically occur due to overstretching or tearing the muscles and tendons that support the spine. This can happen from a sports, exercise, or another type of accident.

What does a lower back strain feel like?

A lower back strain can vary in intensity from a mild, dull ache to a sharp, critical pain that disrupts your everyday life and good sleep. Possible symptoms of lower back strain are:

  • tightness and stiffness in the back
  • limited mobility in the area
  • pain in the affected area – this could be a dull ache or a sharp, stabbing pain
  • pain that might radiate to the buttocks and thighs
  • muscle spasms
  • swelling or inflammation in the strained muscles that you can notice by touch
  • discomfort in the legs, and sometimes in the neck or upper back.

How long will it take to recover from a lower back strain?

The time of recovery from a lower back strain depends on the severity of the injury. A slight strain may heal in a couple of days, while a bad strain or torn muscle is likely to take about six to eight weeks to repair. Recovery time depends on many factors, including the severity of the strain, overall health and the type of treatment used.

The average recovery time for most lower back strains is two weeks, according to NHS guidelines1. Additionally, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) state that more than 90% of people may recover completely within one month2.

Medication for short-term relief

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen are among the most popular for treating the pain and inflammation from strained back muscles. If the pain is severe, your doctor may prescribe more powerful medications, including muscle relaxants and narcotic pain medications, to offer greater relief.

These medications can be helpful in managing the pain, but should be considered just a part of the comprehensive treatment, because they can’t act as a long-term relief. This is because the central nervous system in the body can become used to these drugs , over time, higher doses are needed to produce the same effect.

If the pain interferes with your sleep, your doctor may advise using sleep aids for a short period of time. Unfortunately, sleeping medications are also not meant for long-term usage, because although they can help you to get some sleep, you still might not get the deep, restoring sleep that you need. You might also experience such side effects as grogginess during the day and other unpleasant reactions.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is widely used in the recovery process for people suffering from lower back strains. It combines a variety of techniques and options to meet the individual needs of each patient.

Studies show that this type of therapy improves function and lessens symptoms and should be considered a key part of your recovery from acute or chronic back pain3.

A good physical therapist will offer you individually tailored treatment that includes exercises to strengthen and support the injured area and the surrounding soft tissues and joints. Manual therapy, performed by a therapist’s hands on the muscles and joints to increase mobility and reduce pain, is a commonly used technique in the therapy for lower back pain.

Physical therapists often recommend whole-body exercise programs to strengthen and support the body as whole, helping both to relieve the existing pain and to avoid the further injury.

Exercise & stretching

Incorporating low-impact physical activity into your daily routine can bring the most effective symptom relief.

The gradual improvement of mobility in the form of low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, and simple strength training exercises can control your symptoms and promote the healing process4.

Although the stretching alone might not be the best long-term solution to get rid of the pain, it can help in controlling the symptoms in the short-term period. Stretching is an excellent tool to cause the relaxation, especially before bedtime, and may also be useful in stress management5.

Yoga

Yoga is a type of low-impact exercise. It is an ancient practice that combines controlled breathing with meditation and postures and offers a comprehensive approach to managing chronic lower back problems.

The combination of slow, deliberate movements with focus on flexibility and strength training can support your posture, relieve stress, build core stability, and strengthen muscles around the body, making it beneficial for people with lower back pain. A 2011 randomized trial that placed study participants in a 12-week yoga program, yoga had improved their back function compared to standard treatments9.

Heat therapy & cold therapy

According to a 2021 study, both heat and cold therapies can help relieve the pain. Cold therapy alleviates inflammation, swelling and bruising and numbs the area for the immediate pain relief6.

Alternatively, after the inflammation has decreased, heat therapy can be helpful. The application of the gentle heat increases the blood flow to the affected area, helping oxygen and nutrients reach the location and relax the tense muscles. This in turn supports the healing process.

Alternative treatments – acupuncture & chiropractic treatment

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese technique that uses the placement of needles in certain points of the body that may provide a moderate relief of pain and improvement of function in some people. This treatment is thought to restore the body’s energy flow and thus ease the pain and support the recovery.

In a 2012 study, researchers examined nearly 20,000 people with persistent pain. They evaluated the impact of real acupuncture, fake acupuncture, and no acupuncture at all. They discovered that participants who received true acupuncture experienced a 50% improvement in their chronic pain conditions7.

Chiropractic treatment involves the diagnosis and treatment of mechanical problems of the musculoskeletal system, primarily the spine. Patients often report substantial relief and improved mobility after spinal manipulation, and this can sometimes be more effective than traditional medical treatment in terms of patient satisfaction and pain reduction.

One research study revealed that chiropractic treatment had a positive, clinically meaningful effect of pain intensity and disability at four weeks in people with chronic low back pain8.

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How can I prevent further lumbar strains?

A healthy back is supported by a healthy body and mind. Factors like maintaining an active lifestyle and a healthy body weight play a part, because although it's not about the number on the scales, carrying extra weight and being sedentary can place extra stress on your spine. And this increases the risk of injuring your muscles. Regular physical activity, such as walking, and awareness of your dietary choices are the practical ways to look after yourself.

How to live with lower back strain

Adjust your sleep position

Your sleeping position can impact your lower back pain. Make sure you use the pillows that support your spine. If you sleep on your back, place a pillow under your knees to help keep the natural curve of your spine. For those who sleep on their side, placing a pillow between your knees will help keep your spine straight and reduce the stress on the lower back area.

Focus on your movements & posture

Although it’s important to be aware of your movements and maintain a good posture, these things can't predict or prevent lower back pain. Try use your body in ways that feel comfortable, to avoid further muscle strain in your back.

Being rigidly upright is not required, but thinking about elongated the spine, and changing posture and position through the day, including swapping from sitting to standing, can be beneficial.

Mindfulness & stress reduction

Stress often exacerbates the muscle tension and discomfort. Mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can provide mental relief, helping you cope better with the pain.

At MoreGoodDays®, we've crafted a program grounded in scientific research to support you in dealing with chronic back pain. Our approach helps dispel common myths about back pain, focusing on understanding its root causes, identifying triggers, and learning to alter your body's reaction to pain using neuroplasticity principles.

We provide tailored coaching and a range of tools to guide you in managing pain, supporting mental health, and enhancing your overall quality of life.

Download our mobile app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store for immediate access to some of our content and to see your support options.

When to seek medical attention

If you're dealing with chronic lower back pain that doesn't improve with usual care, including physical therapy, it's wise to consult a healthcare professional. If you start to experience serious symptoms such as a fever (body temperature over 100.4°F 38°C) or a sudden inability to control your bladder or bowels seek immediate medical attention.

In the event of significant trauma, such as a car accident, or if you feel pain spreading into your abdomen, it's crucial to get a comprehensive medical assessment. While not all lower back issues necessitate professional medical treatment, many can be effectively managed with lifestyle adjustments and adopting healthy practices. This can aid your recovery and help prevent future problems. Remember, being attentive to what your body tells you is key to maintaining your health over the long term.