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Do You Have a Pulled Muscle in Your Back?

Man with backpain from pulled muscle

Most people have a sore back at some point. As we age, it becomes more likely – but it starts to increase in likelihood at age 30! Then again, children and athletes can pull a back muscle, so nobody is immune. A pulled muscle in your back may cause you pain for a few weeks, but it sometimes drags on for months or even years if left untreated.

Did you twist quickly to catch the ball or during your last rock-climbing expedition? Or you fell during your run or tripped on your last hike. Maybe you were in the garden and picked up a container of soil that was just a little too heavy. Perhaps your job includes heavy lifting. You might have even heard (or felt) a tear or pop at the time. It might be that you pulled a muscle in your back from one wrong move.

What if you don’t remember doing something specific to pull a muscle? You could have back pain from sitting or standing in the same position for a long time. Bad posture in front of a computer can contribute, too.

The human back is made up of many bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. Plus, every element is connected to blood vessels and nerves. Your back takes most of your body’s weight when you walk, run, and lift.

That’s why having a pulled muscle in your back is so common. Only headaches are more common!

Symptoms of a Pulled Muscle in Your Back

It hurts. That’s the first thing. But how does it hurt? These are typical symptoms:

  • Your back hurts more when you move
  • You have less pain when you stay still
  • The pain in your back goes into your buttocks but not usually into your legs
  • You have muscle spasms or cramps in your back
  • It’s difficult to walk or bend over
  • You are having trouble standing up straight

A Pulled Muscle Vs. a Pinched Nerve

A pulled muscle is when you stretch or outright tear muscle fibers in your back. With overwork or a sudden twist, you probably notice pain, swelling, and your back is tender to touch. There might even be bruising or redness.

A pinched or compressed nerve is when pressure partially blocks nerve impulses. The pain is different – it’s more likely to feel like a hot, burning pain that radiates.

A pulled muscle could cause a pinched nerve, but a pinched nerve could also be a herniated disc. If the pain extends into your legs, contact Atlas Physical Therapy immediately.

Pain on one side of your back could be from overusing your muscles in a specific series of movements (or staying still in one position.) For example, if your work requires you to twist to one side over and over, you could get a pulled muscle in your back on only one side.

If you do pull a muscle in your back, there are several things you can do to help relieve the initial pain and swelling.

How to Relive a Pulled Back Muscle and Reduce Swelling

1. Stop What You Were Doing and Take Some Rest Time

Whether you pulled the muscle in your back by heavy lifting, twisting, or a repetitive movement, stop it! You’ll need to take some rest time from whatever activity that caused the problem until your back has healed. Keep your general activity level lower for a short time and give your back a rest.

Bed rest time may soothe the pain, but it’s only recommended for a brief while. Lay on your back, and support your knees with a pillow. Laying on the floor with your knees bent may provide extra support and help reduce the immediate pain.

Limit your activity for a few days after you pull a muscle in your back but talk to your physical therapist about taking more rest time. Extended rest time can cause your muscles to weaken.  

2. During and After Rest Time – Apply Ice and Then Heat

Start by applying an ice pack to the painful or swollen area right away. You may be surprised by how 10 to 20 minutes of an ice pack can reduce the pain and swelling, at least temporarily. Never apply an ice pack directly to your skin. Wrap the ice pack in a towel. For a pulled muscle in your back, lay down and have someone place the ice pack on the sore area. Or place the ice pack between you and a chair and sit against it.

After a few days, shift from the ice to applying heat. A hot compress, a hot water bottle, or a heating pad work well. The heat helps increase blood flow and can be very soothing. Never apply heat for over 20 minutes at a time, and never sleep in a heating pad

3. Anti-Inflammatory Medications and Supplements

Over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) help reduce swelling and inflammation. This can, in turn, help relieve your pain. The medicines can be effective, but they also have side effects, and you should only use them for a short time. If you are taking other medications, check that there are no potential interactions with the anti-inflammatories.  

Some patients prefer natural anti-inflammatory supplements that provide the same reduction in pain, often with fewer (or no) side effects.

4. Pain-Relieving Topical Creams

Muscle creams applied topically to the area where your back hurts often give great temporary relief. You may need to try several before finding the one(s) that work best for you. Simply apply the cream directly to the skin in the painful area, carefully following the package instructions. Wash your hands afterwards.

5. Therapeutic Massage

Therapeutic massage may help reduce pain, speed healing, and relax your tense back muscles. Ask your physical therapist at Atlas Physical Therapy if massage is recommended in your case.

Physical Therapy for a Pulled Back Muscle in Denver, CO

Here at Atlas Physical Therapy in Denver, CO, we regularly help patients with a pulled muscle in their back. First, we take the time to assess exactly why your back was vulnerable to a pulled muscle. Perhaps your muscles are unbalanced or out of condition, making them unable to support your activities and more susceptible to injury.

First, we’ll focus on reducing your pain. Once you start to feel better, you’ll work directly with your physical therapist to heal your pulled-back muscle. Once you have pulled a muscle in your back, you are more prone to having the same thing happen again. So, your physical therapist develops a long-term plan to help prevent flare-ups and reinjury.

What to Expect for Recovery Time

You should take it easy for the first few days after you pull a muscle in your back but start to get back to most normal activities as soon as possible. Whatever sport or activity caused your injury, it could be a few weeks before you can get back to doing that. Ask your physical therapist at Atlas Physical Therapy in Denver, CO, to assess your condition and make a return to sport/exercise/activity/work recommendation.

Most people find the pain is gone within a couple of weeks. Still, your physical therapist may recommend treatments beyond that time. There is often an underlying weakness or unbalanced muscle group that is the root cause of your injury. And although your pain is gone, that underlying cause needs to be addressed.

So, although you may be back to your normal activities within a few weeks, follow your physical therapist’s recommendations for ongoing treatments and exercise. Your physical therapist at Atlas Physical Therapy in Denver will recommend a series of customized therapeutic exercises for you. These exercises will help speed the healing of your injury and reduce the likelihood of recurrence.

After their physical therapy treatments and therapeutic exercises, many people find that they are in better shape than before their injury!

Atlas Physical Therapy – Quick Relief for Your Pulled Back Muscle in Denver, CO

At Atlas Physical Therapy, you’ll discover the friendliest care from doctorate-trained physical therapists in Denver, CO. We are both friendly, and we get results!

Whether you have been to a physical therapist before, or this is your first time, you’ll be pleased to see how much better you feel – often after just one visit.

For more than 3 years, we have participated in an ongoing survey comparing the results for patients of physical therapy clinics nationwide. We consistently ranked among the top physical therapy clinics, with 90th percentile or better results every year.

Our physical therapists personalize your treatment to make sure you get the superior results patients have come to expect from Atlas Physical Therapy. You can expect better results in fewer visits. Less time and less money – with better results! 

At our physical therapy clinics in Denver, CO, everyone is friendly, compassionate, and listens to your needs. We will help in every way we can to make your physical therapy experience a positive one so the pulled muscle in your back heals quickly.

Make an appointment at one of our locations in Congress Park Denver, Central Park (Stapleton) Denver, Downtown Denver, and West Denver (Highlands), with one of our doctorate-trained physical therapists today!