Most of you in your life will experience pain in your back either in your lumbar, thoracic, or cervical spine. For many individuals, the cause of your back discomfort is a result of a pulled or strained muscle in your back, more commonly your lower back region. A muscle strain can vary in severity; some may cause intense pain while others may experience mild pain.
Let’s start by breaking down the difference between ligaments, tendons, and muscles - as these body parts are commonly confused. They are in fact different, but all three work together to support your spine and to help protect it from injury.
To summarize, your spine is held up by tendons, muscles, and ligaments. You need all of them to move properly, and they are all very prone to over-stretching, twisting, and tearing, which causes damage and injury.
Ligaments are fibrous tissues that connect two or more bones together. They help stabilize your joints while you are sitting or standing still, and while you are moving they help prevent excessive movement injuries such as hyperextension and hyperflexion.
Your spinal ligaments help protect your vertebrae, keep them in their proper position and help you stay upright. Ligaments are slightly elastic, but you can overstretch them through sudden or extreme movements, and you can even tear them.
|What is it called?||Where is it located?||What does it do?|
|Anterior Longitudinal Ligament||Runs down the entire front of your spine||Holds vertebrae and discs together and prevents excessive extension (backward bending)|
|Posterior Longitudinal Ligament||Runs down the entire back of your spine||Holds vertebrae and discs together and prevents excessive flexion (forward bending)|
|Ligamentum Falvum||Runs from the base of your skull to your pelvis||Holds all your vertebrae together and preserves upright posture|
|Interspinous Ligament||In between the spinous processes (the "fins" or bony projections on each vertebra)||Holds your vertebrae together and prevents spine from extending beyond its limits|
|Supraspinous Ligament||Runs down the outside of the spinous processes; connected to the ligamentum flavum||Connects the tips of the spinous processes to hold vertebrae together and limit hyperflexion|
In your back, both muscles and ligaments, making them very prone to overstretching, twisting, and tearing, hold up your spine. Muscles are a bundle of this fibrous tissue that helps your body move and maintain different positions. Tendons are cords of strong fibrous collagen tissue that attach your muscles to your bones.
Now that you understand the difference between muscles and ligaments, let’s talk about let’s talk about what kinds of damage you can do to these amazing tissues.
It’s important to understand that muscles get strained and ligaments get sprained! They are both soft tissue injuries, and people often use them interchangeably, but they are actually different.
A sprainoccurs when a ligament (that fibrous tissue that connects your bones together) stretches or tears. The most common location for a sprain to happen is in your ankle.
A strain occurs when a muscle or tendon stretches or tears.
So yes, we agree this is quite confusing. Because the damage occurring is basically the same… it’s just happening to a different part of your body. Muscles and ligaments can both be stretched out too far, resulting in pain and discomfort. Muscles get strained and ligaments get sprained.
Got it? Good. For the rest of this article, we are going to talk specifically about the muscles in your back, how they get strained, and what you can do about it.
When it comes to muscle damage, you’ve probably heard of a torn muscle, a pulled muscle, and a strained muscle. It seems like a muscle tear would be much more severe than a muscle strain, right? A “tear” just sounds way scarier. Well, guess what? All of these injuries are actually the same thing! How confusing…
We know what you’re thinking… “Seriously? More confusing medical terms that sound different but are actually the same thing? You’ve got to be kidding me?”
Hey, we didn’t invent the words. We’re just here to explain it to you!
See, when you damage your muscle, what’s happening is that part or all of the muscle fibers, and the tendons attached to those muscles are stretching too far and therefore start to tear. This tearing of your muscle damages small blood vessels, which causes bleeding or bruising, and pain because your nerve endings in that area are irritated.
So a back muscle strain is actually a back muscle tear… and a pulled back muscle is actually a torn back muscle. Clear as mud? Don’t worry - you officially have our permission to use pulled, strained, and torn interchangeably as all of these have the same symptoms, causes, and can be helped with the same treatment options.
There are many underlying causes of muscle pulls, tears, and strains. In your back, these injuries are more likely to occur in the lumbar region of your spine (a.k.a. lower back) as this area endures quite a lot of tension, weight, and twisting.
Do you have pain in your lower back? Do you think it might be muscle damage? Answer these questions below to help determine if the cause of your pain might be muscle strain (a.k.a. a torn muscle)
Q: Do you lift heavy objects frequently?
Lifting heavy objects incorrectly can lead to tears and muscle pulls in your back, especially if you’re twisting while lifting such objects. To avoid this, learn 7 proper lifting techniques.
Q: Do you play sports that involve frequent turning/twisting?
Sports such as golf, basketball, football, etc. can lead to the wearing and tearing of your back muscles. These sports also tend to overuse your back muscles because you work the same muscles frequently.
Q: Have you fallen or experienced trauma recently?
A fall or accident may cause your back muscles and tendons to be overstretched, resulting in pulled or strained back.
Q: Do you practice good posture?
If you find yourself frequently slouching, this may be the cause of your torn back muscle pain. Poor posture forces your muscles to work harder to keep your body upright, placing extra stress and tension on those muscles.
What is your current posture stance? Take our quiz now to find out!
Q: Are you overweight?
Being overweight or obese can cause numerous health problems including a strained back, read below for more information.
As mentioned above, the symptoms of a torn muscle may vary from individual to individual. The severity of your pain may be a result of the cause of your pulled back, your age, or another condition you may currently have.
The most common symptoms of a torn muscle, strained muscle, and pulled muscle include:
It’s important to note that some of the symptoms listed above are similar to many other back conditions. To ensure if you have a pulled or strained muscle, get checked out by your doctor to be certain.
Do you think you may have a different back problem? Check out BraceAbility’s orthopedic library full of information on different back injuries including herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, kyphosis, and more.
If you are a larger or plus size individual, it can be very common for you to experience pain in your back, especially in the lower back region. Being obese is the number one cause of lower back pain, as this extra weight that you carry places more stress and tension on your back. This excess weight makes you prone to injuries in your back, spine, and shoulders. Read more about the dangerous impact of obesity on your back and spine.
In addition, being obese can result in poor posture, which is one of the causes of a strained, pulled, or torn muscle in your back. Wearing a posture brace can be a simple solution to avoiding such stance.
Wondering if you’re considered obese or plus size? Take this BMI quiz to help you figure out!
Although it can be hard to prevent a pulled back muscle from everyday activities such as twisting, bending, or lifting, there are some ways to avoid this injury.
Below are some tips to help avoid a lower back strain:
Luckily for you, most pulled or strained lower back muscles heal on their own over time. Similar to the severity of symptoms, recovery time from a strained muscle depends on each individual. Typically, it takes around two weeks for an individual's condition to improve. Initially, a pulled muscle in back treatment involves conservative options at home.
Below are other treatment ways to help reduce your pain from a pulled, strained, or torn back:
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