Back Strain

DEFINITION

Back strain causes the majority of low back pain in New Jersey. Back strain presents as a non-radiating pain in the back (does not shoot into the legs), that is usually dull and can be felt in a variety of positions. Pain can also be felt into the posterior thigh and buttocks, a referred pain. A referred pain is one that stems from a structure, in this case the back, but is felt a short distance away.

Examination of the strained area will reveal muscle spasm and a limited range of motion. The painful area may be tender to touch and is usually not located directly in the midline of the back.

WHO GETS BACK STRAIN AND WHY

Back strain is often related to a strained ligament or muscle. Frequently, the patient may not be able to remember the event that caused the strain and started the pain.

The muscles of the spine are some of the largest muscles in the body. Due to their size, they have a tendency to be strained or sprained. These muscles are used primarily for extending the back (bending backwards, rising from a seated position, or lifting), but also to a lesser extent to rotate the body and to bend from side to side. When the back muscles are strained, nearly all positions of activity can be painful, since the muscles will be stretched or utilized in many positions.

The strain of back muscles can be caused by overuse or misuse of the spine extensor muscles (the large muscles of the back that work when you bend backwards). Individuals often bend forward at the waist and reach to lift items, placing excessive force on the back. This action creates a distance between the spine and the item during the lift. This places the muscles of the spine (and the discs) under significant, unnecessary stress, and is the cause of many back strains. The proper lifting technique is to bend at the knees and pull the item toward the body; the proper technique for holding objects is to stand with the item held near the body.

To understand this excess strain, place a gallon of milk in your hand. Would you rather hold it close to your body with your elbow flexed, or as far from your body as possible with your elbow extended? Try to hold the gallon of milk away from your body for 30 seconds, compared to next to your body for the same amount of time. The spine works under the same principles. Proper lifting technique encourages placing the weight close to your body and using your powerful leg muscles to lower yourself to the object and lift, rather than bending at the hip and lifting the item while away from the body.

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