Diagnosing and Treating Back Muscle Injuries
If in addition to pain, you have weakness, bowel or bladder problems, numbness, or tingling in your arms or legs, these suggest that you have more than a muscle problem and indeed suggest a disc herniation, broken vertebra, or spinal instability, resulting in the compression of the cord or nerve roots. For moderate-to-severe pain, see your doctor immediately. For what you interpret as just muscle pain, see your doctor if it persists for a month or so.
We can’t see a spasm on X-ray or MRI, and it may not be detectable by many sophisticated diagnostic tests, but your doctor can diagnose it by touching the muscle in question and feeling the tightness.
High-quality tests like an MRI is referred to see if there is damage to a spinal disc, a fracture or slipped disc.
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What is Muscle Spasm?
Muscle spasm is a common cause of acute back and neck pain. Many backs go into spasm following overuse, playing sports without warming up first may strain their backs. Others lift or pull heavy objects using their backs rather than their legs for leverage and cause a spasm. There are many ways to hurt the muscle around the spine as there are people who put themselves out of action with this type of acute back pain. Muscles in any part of the spine can go into spasm, as it is for disc herniations.
A muscle spasm is an involuntary local muscle contraction. It can be acute or chronic. It can be caused by repetitive overuse: bending the back for long hours. Or it can be caused by misuse and muscle injury during sports. It can also occur in response to an underlying painful problem, such as an acute disc herniation or chronic pain following failed spinal surgery.
Any awkward movement – misuse or injury – can lead to a severe , painful muscle spasm and even cause the back to lock in place. Not only exertion; ordinary things like sneezing, coughing, bending to tie your shoe, or turning to face a different direction can cause a spasm. Finally, many of you who have had disc herniation know how some of the muscles in the back or neck, occasionally in the leg or shoulder, go into painful spasm.
Acutely damaged muscles become painful because acid and other toxic chemicals are produced within the muscle after overuse: a reaction to misuse or injury. Any spasm, regardless of cause, can turn the muscles of the back into a hard, painful knot. You have likely has a severe back or neck spasm or know of someone who has; it literally keeps you from moving, as if you were in painful, muscular cast.
Not only do injured muscles often go into spasm but chronically painful underlying spinal conditions, such as disc herniation, can cause chronic spasm, worsening the underlying pain. Here the spasm is mediated by the nervous system; it is not due to muscle injury. Such a reflexive spasm is caused by excessive pain impulses travelling up the root compressed by the disc to the cord. Then, through a reflex mechanism there, other nerve impulses are sent back to the root, which results in spasm of the muscles supplied by it.
This reflex mechanism may be active even if the root is not compressed or irritated. For example, the pain from a broken vetebra or one damaged by a tumour may cause spasm of the muscles around it. In this case, both the vertebra and the affected muscles are supplied by the same roots. In these cases of reflex spasm, our muscles have formed a sort of splint to protect the underlying spine. Unfortunately, the splint may be as painful the underlying problem.
Ongoing spasm, regardless of the cause, injures the muscle to some extent. However, once the underlying cause is removed, the spasm should diminish in at most a few days.
Straining Your Back
The difference between a strain and spasm may be academic when it comes to sore back muscles, since the treatment is similar. Strain is caused by predominantly by overuse: repetitive, forceful movements that result in muscle soreness without spasm. Muscle is made up of individual and segmental strands of tissue. When any muscle, including those around the spine, encounter excessive pulling force, individual strands can stretch or tear – become strained – while the rest of the muscle remains intact. If you do lots of bending, lifting, and twisting, you are probably no stranger to this type of back pain. On the opposite side of the coin are people who rarely exercise. Muscles and ligaments become weak. When an inactive person suddenly becomes active, injuries are common.
The major symptom of back strain is pain when you stretch the muscle and you feel it tighten. If the strain is more severe, the symptoms are abrupt and immediately disabling. They are often accompanied by what patients describe as an audible snap or pop. After the initial burst of pain, symptoms of severe strains may subside, making them sometimes less painful than minor strains. Lumbar muscle strains may cause a broad, aching pain across the lower back or pain may be limited to one side. You may have trouble bending down or stranding up straight. You may also feel an occasional spasm when you move around or even while sleeping.
After you have sprained a back muscle, it is more vulnerable to another injury.
- Exercise regularly to strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, which support your spine.
- Good posture.
- Use ergonomics.