What is a Back Sprain?

Dan Cavallari

A back sprain occurs when the ligaments in the back are stretched beyond their normal capacity A ligament is a band of tissue that connects bones with other bones, and in some cases, bones with cartilage. Ligaments dictate the strength of a joint, and support movement within that joint both forward and backward, as well as side to side. When a ligament is overstretched, it is known as a sprain. Ligaments connect many bones in the back, meaning the possibility for a back sprain is high, especially during athletic activities.

The muscles of the back.
The muscles of the back.

Falls or other impacts can cause a back sprain. Any impact that causes the ligament to stretch beyond its means can cause a sprain as well, and they are common in car accidents, athletic events, or even when maneuvering through large crowds. The symptoms of a back sprain vary according to how severe the sprain is; minor sprains may cause slight discomfort in the back, accompanied by soreness or tenderness. Mild back sprain injuries generally do not swell or bruise, though it is possible. More severe back sprain injuries will swell and may bruise. The pain will be more intense and persistent, and the back's mobility will be impaired.

Back sprains occur when the ligaments of the back are stretched beyond their normal capacity.
Back sprains occur when the ligaments of the back are stretched beyond their normal capacity.

Ligament injuries generally take much longer to heal than muscle injuries, so rest is essential. The sprain may take several days to several weeks to heal fully, and the RICE method should be applied to such an injury. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation; rest and ice are perhaps the two most important steps in the process, as rest allows the ligaments to heal naturally, and ice keeps swelling down, which can help reduce pain. Light stretching should be done after several days of rest, and when little to no pain is felt in the back, exercise or physical therapy can be done to help restore strength in the muscles and injured ligaments.

A lumbar sprain can cause intense lower back pain.
A lumbar sprain can cause intense lower back pain.

For persistent pain when injured, over-the-counter medications are available to help alleviate some discomfort. More severe pain can be dealt with by taking doctor-prescribed medications. Applying ice to the injured area should also help reduce pain, as can short periods of heating the injured area. Light stretching will help keep the muscles from becoming stiff and sore, but one should be careful not to overdo the stretches, as this may cause re-injury.

Back sprains can be caused by lifting too much at a time.
Back sprains can be caused by lifting too much at a time.
Trying to maneuver through large crowds can sometimes contribute to back sprains.
Trying to maneuver through large crowds can sometimes contribute to back sprains.

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