A pulled muscle in your back or neck area is not only uncomfortable, it can also be very inconvenient, especially if you are an athlete or just an active individual. Acute pain, unexpected muscle spasms, and the inability to move with full range of motion can have a significant impact on your daily life and prevent you from doing some of the things you love most.
Recognizing the early signs of a pulled back muscle allows you to help prevent it from getting worse. Treating a minor injury before it intensifies may save you days or weeks of discomfort and inconvenience.
Symptoms of a Pulled Back Muscle
A pulled muscle is actually a strained muscle. A pulled (or strained) back occurs when the fibers in one or more of the muscles that support the spine are overused or overstretched. This can lead to painful tearing and a long recovery if left untreated.
Some of the signs to look out for include:
- Local swelling
- Muscle spasms
- Tenderness when touched
- Intense or dull pain
- Pain with certain specific movements
- Tightness or stiffness in the muscles
- Pain relief in resting positions
Many people with a pulled back muscle will feel more pain or stiffness early in the day, and less as the body warms up and becomes more limber. Pain resulting from specific movements, such as standing up or bending over, is a key indicator of back strain, so don’t ignore these seemingly minor aches and pains.
When recognized and treated early, the symptoms of back muscle strain might last only a few hours or days. However, without treatment, the injury could worsen and take several weeks to recover.
How to Treat a Pulled Back Muscle
In many cases, a minor back muscle strain can be treated at home or with the help of a physical therapist. If you’re not sure what your injury is or if you are in extreme pain, it’s always a good idea to consult with a physician. If you are noticing the early signs of a pulled back muscle, consider these treatment options:
Over-the-counter pain medications may be used as directed to treat the minor aches and pains associated with a pulled back muscle. In addition to reducing pain, these treatments may also help reduce inflammation. Because they might cause unwanted side effects, many people choose to use these treatments on a limited basis.
Applying therapeutic cold to a pulled back muscle may help reduce pain and swelling without the use of medication. Using cold therapy, either in the form of ice packs or with a cold therapy system in the early stages of injury recovery can help control the inflammatory process.
After the inflammation subsides, you can apply heat to the area which may help relieve pain, relax muscles, and promote circulation. Applying heat while the inflammatory response is still occurring can actually contribute to increased swelling, so even if heat feels good, don’t start this step too soon in the recovery process.
If you have ongoing problems with pulled back muscles, it’s a good idea to work with a physical therapist who can show you exercises that can help strengthen muscles and increase range of motion. They can also show you proper form and techniques for avoiding future back injuries.
Therapeutic massage can help relax tight muscles and increase circulation to promote healing. If you feel the early signs of a pulled back muscle, massage can help relieve pain and increase range of motion. Be sure to let your therapist know about any discomfort you feel so they can tailor their treatment accordingly.
Although getting ample rest is important for healing, total inactivity can weaken muscles, cause stiffness, and contribute to higher risk of injury. Continue to perform light activities that do not cause pain, such as walking, stretching, and light squats. Avoid the activities that cause pain, such as lifting or bending, and learn proper form before you resume more strenuous exercise.
If you have a pulled muscle in your back, or any other type of back injury, download our free Complete Guide to Spinal and Back Injury Recovery to learn more about the types of treatments that can help you return to normal activity.