A pulled muscle in the back is technically a muscle strain, but sometimes people also use the term to describe a ligament sprain. Both injuries have similar symptoms, with the primary one being pain. The most common location for a pulled back muscle is in the lumbar spine, which is the lower back area.
Pulled Back Muscle Symptoms
The soft tissue in the lower back can become damaged for many different reasons, but some of the most common include:
- Twisting the spine or using poor form while lifting a heavy object
- Falling in a way that puts too much pressure on the spine
- Poor posture that stresses the connective tissues in the spine
- Sports injuries caused by pivoting, twisting, or physical impact
A sprain or strain in the back may result in symptoms that include:
- Dull, aching pain in the lower back
- Difficulty standing, sitting, and twisting
- Stiffness in the lower back
- Muscle spasms
- Pain that radiates to the buttocks
While the symptoms are similar, sprains and strains are not the same injuries. A sprain occurs when a ligament that connects bone to bone is stretched or torn. A strain occurs when fibers in the muscles or tendons are stretched or torn. However, despite their differences, treatment approaches for strains and sprains are often the same.
Pulled Back Muscle Recovery Time
A pulled back muscle can take anywhere from days to weeks to achieve a full recovery. The primary factors in recovery time are the severity of the injury and the treatment approach. A very mild muscle pull can heal in just a few days when rested, but most muscle strains may take four to six weeks to heal, and a very severe muscle pull could take up to ten weeks. To accelerate your recovery time, consider a proactive treatment approach that includes physical therapy and the techniques described below.
Treatment for a Pulled Back Muscle
Except in the cases of severe injury, most of the time a pulled back muscle can be treated at home with RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). However, working with a physical therapist may help accelerate your recovery because you may have access to more advanced treatments such as cryotherapy, active compression, and rapid contrast therapy.
The application of therapeutic cold is proven to help reduce the pain and swelling associated with a pulled muscle in the back. While ice packs are one way to apply cold, there are more effective methods. One of the problems with ice packs is that they get warmer as your body heat draws in the cold. By the end of a treatment session, the ice pack is no longer at a therapeutic temperature and is therefore less effective. Another problem is that an ice pack only delivers cold to an area limited to the size of the ice pack itself.
A cryotherapy system solves these problems by using body-conforming wraps with integrated cold-circulating chambers to deliver therapeutic cold at a consistent temperature over a larger surface area. This means that you get the same therapeutic benefit throughout the duration of the treatment session, and the cold is able to reach more of your damaged tissues.
Static compression with a brace or elastic bandage is good for preventing excess swelling, but active compression takes it a step further by helping to pump away excess fluid to reduce swelling. Using the same body-conforming wraps, air is pneumatically pumped through the integrated chambers to mimic natural “squeeze and release” muscle contractions, helping to flush away excess fluids. Active compression also helps enhance the benefits of cold therapy by promoting deeper, longer-lasting penetration of therapeutic cold.
Rapid Contrast Therapy
As you recover from a pulled back muscle, the initial inflammation will likely die down after a few days, but that doesn’t mean the injury is healed. At this point, it’s safe to start using heat therapy to help promote circulation, which brings freshly oxygenated blood and nutrients to the healing tissues. However, applying only heat can actually cause additional swelling, which is why rapid contrast therapy (alternating of heat and cold), is a good treatment choice. By quickly alternating between heat and cold, you get the benefits of both types of therapy without the risk of swelling that heat can cause.
Using these treatment approaches can help you recover more quickly from a pulled muscle in the back. While the recovery time will vary depending on the severity of the injury, shaving off days or even weeks of valuable time is worth the effort. For more information about how to recover from a pulled muscle in the back, download our free Complete Guide to a Faster Spinal and Back Injury Recovery.