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Back Sprains & Strains

Low back (lumbar) strains and sprains are the most common causes of back pain. A strain refers to the stretching or tear of a muscle or tendon (tissue that connects muscles to bone) while a sprain refers to the stretching or tear of a ligament (tissue that connect adjacent bones). Low back sprains and strains often result from activities such as heavy lifting or falling which exert excessive physical stress on the lower back.


Low back sprains and strains often occur as a result of:

  • Excessive flexion (bending forward)
  • Excessive extension (bending backward)
  • Twisting
  • Sudden contraction of a muscle or tendon
  • Heavy lifting or improper lifting
  • Fall
  • Inadequate warm up before exercise


Symptoms of a low back strain or sprain include:

  • Sharp back pain that may radiate to the buttocks or legs and is aggravated by movement
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness in the lower back
  • Muscle cramping or spasms
  • Tenderness over the affected region
  • Rarely, bowel or bladder dysfunction


An accurate diagnosis and an effective treatment plan are required for a successful outcome. Your doctor will arrive at a diagnosis and determine the cause of pain based on your medical history and the physical and neurological examination findings. Your doctor will also test your reflexes, muscle strength, and sensory perception. Diagnostic imaging tests such as X-rays and MRI scans may be required to confirm the diagnosis and to rule out a spinal fracture. Electromyography (EMG) may also be done to reveal any muscle dysfunction.


Low back sprain and strain is commonly managed with non-surgical treatment without the need for spinal surgery. The non-surgical treatment options include activity modification, ice application, anti-inflammatory and pain medications, muscle relaxants, bracing, physical therapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture. To enhance the success of your treatment, your doctor may combine two or more treatment modalities.


Some of the preventive measures that can help prevent low back strain and sprain include:

  • Abstinence from smoking
  • Maintenance of a healthy body weight
  • A healthy well balanced diet
  • Regular stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Proper lifting technique
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  • Mount Sinai
  • American Board
  • AAOS
  • AMA