Whether it’s happened to you or you’ve seen it happen to someone else, you know the scene: someone makes a simple movement and is suddenly in horrible pain, unable to move. Their (or your) back is thrown out. But what does this actually mean and how can you treat the problem? Any quick onset of lower back pain can be a form of throwing your back out and is a sign to see a chiropractor for back pain as soon as possible, but keep reading to learn more about this scenario.
Signs of a Thrown Out Back
If your back is thrown out, you may notice a sudden onset of symptoms like:
- Back stiffness
- Trouble with mobility and range of motion
- Intense lower back pain
- Muscle spasms or intense bouts of muscles tightening then relaxing
- Trouble maintaining good posture
This pain usually starts quickly and resolves within 10 to 14 days, as it is an acute injury. Symptoms that last longer than two weeks may signal a more serious injury or chronic condition.
Causes of a Thrown Out Back
In general, throwing your back out refers to straining the muscles in the back. This commonly happens when you lift heavy objects or bend forward in an awkward position, leading to pain that is isolated to the lower back. Some activities that are commonly associated with this include:
- Twisting the back, like when hitting a golf ball
- Lifting something too heavy
- Stretching the back too far
- Continued use of poor posture and body mechanics when lifting
These activities and other similar ones can injure a number of the structures supporting your back, including ligaments, muscles, blood vessels, and connective tissues. Even minor damage like small tears to the discs may stimulate nerves in the back, leading to inflammation and pain.
Most people know the moment they throw out their back and can identify the activity that caused it. However, it is still important to seek treatment to rule out any more serious issues.
When you visit a chiropractor for back pain, they will first ask about your symptoms and what you were doing when they began, as well as what may make them worse or better. This information is helpful when making a diagnosis. Usually, this is enough information, but if you are presenting more severe symptoms like a loss of bladder control or numbness in the legs, more testing could be required.
If your back pain does not improve after two weeks or worsens in that time, doctors may begin the process again and turn to imaging and other diagnostic tools to determine the cause of your pain.
Treatments After Throwing Out Your Back
The first thing you should always do if you throw out your back is rest in order to allow the body to heal and reduce inflammation. In most cases, the pain limits your daily activities naturally, making this easy. As you start to recover, it is important to listen to your body and avoid overdoing anything. Some other things that may help at home include:
- Apply ice-packs (wrapped in a cloth barrier) to the lower back in 10 or 15-minute intervals.
- Use over-the-counter medication with anti-inflammatory properties, like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen sodium (Aleve). Acetaminophen like Tylenol can relieve pain but not reduce inflammation.
- Use pillows and other back support to take pressure off your back. You may use rolled-up towels under the curve of your lower back, known as a lumbar roll.
- If you sleep on your side, use a lumbar roll behind your back or a pillow between your legs to reduce stress on the back. Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
After a couple of days of rest and home remedies, it is important to start moving again to prevent stiffness and encourage blood flow to your injuries. Simple stretches and slow walking can be helpful, but you should avoid any strenuous activity, twisting, bending, or lifting.
If you are still struggling with pain, your doctor may recommend continuing chiropractic adjustments for some time, in addition to other options like physical therapy. Stronger medications like muscle relaxants or steroid injections may also be necessary. In rare cases, surgery could be needed to correct injuries, especially if you had existing back problems before throwing it out.
At AICA Atlanta, our team of chiropractors and other specialists consistently see people who have thrown out their backs and are prepared to help. We will carefully diagnose your condition before creating personalized treatment plans designed to help you recover as quickly and fully as possible. Contact us today to make your first appointment!