When you throw out your back, you’ll feel a quick onset of lower back pain. The pain may be different or worse if you have chronic lower back pain.
A lot of times, this pain occurs after hard work, such as shoveling or lifting heavy objects, or an injury.
Throwing out your back can keep you from your regular activities for several days. You may wonder if you need to seek emergency attention.
Keep reading for more information about what you can do to help your back at home and when it’s time to see a doctor.
Throwing out your back can cause the following symptoms:
- back stiffness that keeps you from moving well
- intense low back pain
- muscle spasms, or intense bouts of muscle tightening and relaxing
- problems maintaining good posture
Once the pain starts, it doesn’t usually last beyond 10 to 14 days if it’s an acute injury. Otherwise, the symptoms could be those of a chronic back concern.
Throwing out your back usually means you’ve strained the muscles in your back. Lifting heavy objects or bending forward in an awkward position are common muscle strain causes. The pain that muscle strain produces is usually right around your lower back and no further.
Some of the most common activities that cause throwing out your back include:
- twisting the back, like when hitting a golf ball
- lifting something too heavy
- stretching the back too far
- practicing poor posture and body mechanics when lifting
Doing one or more of these activities can cause injuries to a number of the structures supporting your back, like your:
- blood vessels
- connective tissues
Even minor damage, such as small tears in the protective vertebral discs, can stimulate the back’s nerves and lead to inflammation and pain.
Most people can identify the activity or injury when they threw out their back.
Your doctor will start by asking you about your symptoms, what you were doing when you noticed them, and what makes them worse or better. They’ll consider your symptoms when making a diagnosis and recommending treatments.
For example, if your pain is severe or causing severe symptoms, such as numbness down your legs or loss of bladder control, your doctor will usually recommend further tests. However, if your doctor suspects back strain, they may not recommend imaging.
Imaging studies can sometimes reveal underlying injuries or other causes of back pain, such as a tumor. Examples of imaging studies a doctor may recommend include:
If your back pain doesn’t get better after two weeks or gets worse, you may need to call your doctor back to make an appointment for further testing.
The first thing to do after you throw out your back is rest. Resting allows your body to heal and reduce inflammation. Plus, the pain will likely limit your daily activities right after you throw out your back.
Listen to your body when recovering from a back injury. Try not to overdo your activities. In addition to rest, you may wish to try the following tips:
- Applying cloth-covered ice packs to your lower back for 10- to 15-minute increments. Don’t apply ice directly to the skin, as it can be damaging.
- Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen sodium (Aleve). Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can relieve pain, but it’s not an anti-inflammatory medicine.
- Use special pillows or lower back supports to take pressure off your back. One example includes rolling up a towel and placing it behind the curve of your lower back. Doctors call this a lumbar roll.
- Sleep with a lumbar roll behind your back or with a pillow between your legs if you sleep on your side. These sleep positions can reduce stress on your back. Avoid sleeping on your stomach, as this can worsen back pain.
- Talk with your doctor about whether seeing a chiropractor for treatment could be helpful for your injury.
When to start moving again
After about one to three days of rest, start to move again to prevent stiffness and improve blood flow to injured muscles.
Engaging in slow, easy stretching and walking for 10-minute increments can help. Examples include pulling the knees in toward the chest or pulling straight legs toward the chest.
While some activities can be beneficial, others have the potential to worsen back pain. Avoid activities that involve:
- heavy lifting
- bending at the waist
- twisting the spine, such as hitting a golf or tennis ball
In addition to at-home treatments, your doctor may recommend and prescribe additional treatments. Examples include:
- physical therapy
- stronger anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, or pain medications
- steroid injections
In rare instances, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct injuries. If you have chronic back pain that was worsened by an injury, this may be the case.
Having strong back and core muscles can help reduce the likelihood you’ll throw out your back. Activities that can help you maintain a strong back while also promoting flexibility include Pilates, yoga, and tai chi.
In addition to physical activity, you can also wear protective equipment whenever possible to reduce the likelihood of back injury. Examples include a weightlifting belt or back brace that provide extra support. Many sizes and options are available.
For extra help, consult a certified personal trainer or physical therapist for the best posture and safest exercises.
Also be sure to practice good posture when lifting heavy objects to prevent back injuries. Remember to:
- Keep your elbows and arms as close to your body as possible.
- Bend at your knees and lift with your legs, not with your back and back muscles.
- Avoid twisting your back when you’re lifting.
- Refrain from jerking when lifting.
- Rest when the object gets too heavy to continue lifting.
Always use good judgement when lifting heavy items. If you think the load may be too heavy, it probably is. Recruit another person to help you, or try to use mechanical means of help, such as carts or special carriers.
Seek emergency medical attention for the following symptoms related to throwing out your back:
- bladder or bowel dysfunction
- numbness down one or both legs
- weakness in your legs that makes it hard to stand
- fever greater than 101.5°F (38.6°C)
Symptoms that aren’t an emergency but still need prompt medical attention include:
- injury that hasn’t reduced in pain with at-home treatments
- pain or discomfort that continues to interfere with your daily life and activities
If you feel like something’s not right with your back, it’s best to see your doctor sooner than later. Again, talk with your doctor about whether chiropractic treatments could be helpful for you.
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, 90 percent of people with lower back strain or sprain recover from the injury within a month.
Ideally, you can treat your back injury at home. However, if your pain gets worse or makes it difficult to complete daily activities, see your doctor.