What is a Back Muscle Tear or Injury?
A muscle tear or injury is said to occur whenever the muscle gets over-stretched or overused beyond its capacity. It is also known by the term Muscle Strain.1 A Muscle Tear or Injury normally occurs when the muscles are overused resulting in muscle fatiguing or improper use of the muscles. Muscle Tear or Injury can occur in any muscle, but the most common muscles that are likely to get torn, injured, or strained are the muscles of the lower back, neck, shoulders, and hamstring muscles.
A back muscle tear or injury similarly can be caused by overuse or strain of the muscles of the back. This can happen due to rigorous exercising, lifting heavy weights, or moving heavy items repetitively. A back muscle tear or injury can occur in athletes as well as people who are involved in construction who tend to move heavy items on a repetitive basis. Sportsmen who play sports like rugby or baseball are also at an increased risk for a back muscle tear or injury. A back muscle tear or injury can result in significant pain at the site of the muscles along with restricted range of motion of the back.
A back muscle tear or injury can range from being mild to severe. A mild back muscle tear or injury can be treated conservatively at home with simple lifestyle modifications and over-the-counter medications, but severe back muscle tear or injury may require aggressive treatments and will need prolonged rehabilitation posttreatment.
What Causes Back Muscle Tear or Injury?
There are basically two types of muscle tears or injury of which one is acute and the other is chronic. An acute muscle tear or injury occurs when there is a tear in the back muscle all of a sudden. This is usually found in sporting injuries or trauma like a slip and fall.
Some of the Common Causes of an Acute Back Muscle Tear or Injury:
- Not warming up properly before lifting something heavy.
- Poor back flexibility.
- Deconditioning or starting exercising after being sedentary for a long period of time such as after a fracture or other illness.
- Overexertion of the back muscles.
- Repetitive bending and lifting something heavy may also result in back muscle tear or injury.2
- It is seen that acute muscle strains are common in the colder weather since the muscles are already quite stiff during the winter season.
Some of the Causes of Chronic Back Muscle Tear or Injury:
- Sporting activities like rowing, golf, or baseball.
- Holding the back in an awkward position for prolonged periods of time like sitting with a poor posture on a desk in front of a computer for long periods of time.
What are the Symptoms of Back Muscle Tear or Injury?
Some of the symptoms of back muscle tear or injury are:
- Sudden onset of severe back pain.
- Back soreness.
- Limited range of motion of the back.
- Skin discoloration along the back region.
- Muscle spasms.
- Back stiffness.
- Difficulty bending.
- Difficulty lifting.
How is Back Muscle Tear or Injury Diagnosed?
In order to diagnose back muscle tear or injury, the physician will first take a detailed history of the patient to inquire as to whether there was any injury involving the back. Doctor will also inquire as to the occupation of the patient and take a look at the sitting posture of the patient. The next step towards diagnosis of back muscle tear or injury is a detailed physical examination where the physician will inspect the back. The physician will then try to perform a range of motion test to see whether the patient is able to move the back and if so to what extent. This will give the physician an idea as to whether the patient is dealing with a partial or incomplete or a full back muscle tear or injury. Radiographic studies in the form of an MRI or CT scan will also help in ascertaining a diagnosis of pulled back muscle.
How is Back Muscle Tear or Injury Treated?
Almost all cases of minor back muscle tear or injury can be treated with lifestyle modifications and using NSAIDs in the form of Tylenol or ibuprofen. Avoiding any activity which may aggravate the injury needs to be avoided. Using ice to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes two to three times a day is also quite effective. Heating pads may also be applied to the back area for 15 to 20 minutes two to three times a day. It should be noted here that both ice and heat should not be applied simultaneously as it may lead to development of fracture blisters. They can be applied alternatively.
It is important to note here that the patient should not stay away from any activity for a long period of time as it may lead to further back stiffness and it may become problematic for the patient to return back to activities. Thus, as soon as the patient feels slightly comfortable, it is important to start some back stretches so that the muscle remains flexible. It is recommended that once the patient has healed from back muscle tear or injury, then he or she should warm up adequately before embarking on any activity involving back muscles.
In cases of severe back muscle tear or injury, apart from the treatments mentioned above physical therapy may also be necessary to regain muscle strength and range of motion. Surgery is not required for treatment of back muscle tear or injury.
How to Prevent Back Muscle Tear or Injury?
A back muscle tear or injury can be prevented if certain measures are followed diligently. Below mentioned are some steps which are quite effective in preventing back muscle tear or injury:
- Try to avoid sitting in one position for a long period of time. It is recommended in case if an individual has a desk job to take frequent breaks or change positions frequently to prevent back muscle tear or injury.
- Maintaining a good posture when standing as well as when sitting is also quite effective in preventing back muscle tear or injury as it puts less stress on the back muscles.3 Caution need to be maintained when lifting things especially heavy items so as to prevent back muscle tear or injury.
- Maintaining a healthy weight so as to prevent putting extra pressure on the back and prevent muscle tear or injury.
- It is very important to listen to your body, particularly when doing activities like heavy lifting either at work or at the gym. If the body signals that it is finding it too tedious too handle the weight, then it is always better to cut down on the weights lifted at the gym or take a break from lifting at work for about an hour or so and then start again so as to prevent Back Muscle Tear or Injury.
What is the Recovery Period for Back Muscle Tear or Injury?
In mild cases of back muscle tear or injury, the muscle still remains functional and the patient is able to move around, bend to some extent and lift but in cases of a severe back muscle tear or injury where the muscle is completely torn then the patient will have severe restriction in range of motion of the back and will find it difficult to lift, bend or pivot. It takes a few weeks for a minor back muscle tear or injury to heal whereas it may take up to a period of 6 months before there is complete recovery from a severe back muscle tear or injury.