Back Muscle Pain

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Article by J. Miller, A. Wong

What is Back Muscle Pain? 

back muscle pain

Back muscle pain or its aliases: pulled back muscle, back muscle spasm, torn back muscle or back muscle strain, is very common.

In fact, back muscle pain is the most common source of back pain. The good news is, that it is also one of the quickest to heal and rehabilitate. 

What Causes Back Muscle Pain?

Most causes of low back pain are muscle, ligament or joint related. Commonly, these back injuries are caused by muscular strains, ligament sprains and joint dysfunction, particularly when pain arises suddenly during or following physical loading of your spine. Muscle fatigue, excessive loads, high speeds or poor lifting postures are the most common causes.

The causes of simple back pain are numerous but roughly fall into the following categories.

Back Muscle Strains

Muscle pain is the most common source of back pain. Muscle fatigue, excessive loads or poor lifting or sitting postures are the most common problems. 

Inefficient, weak, or back muscles that lack endurance or normal contraction timing can lead to poor joint stabilisation and subsequent injury to your back muscles, ligaments, joints or even spinal discs.

Poor Posture

Poor posture when sitting, standing and lifting at work, can place unnecessary stress upon your spine. With muscle fatigue or overstretching, your ligaments and discs can stretch and this places spinal joint muscles and nerves under pain-causing pressure or strain, that results in back pain.

Ligament Sprains

Ligaments are the strong fibrous bands that limit the amount of movement at available at each spinal level. Stretching ligaments too far or too quickly will tear them with subsequent bleeding into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling, muscular spasm and pain.

Awkward lifting, sports injuries and motor vehicle accidents are very common causes. Just as in other regions of the body, physiotherapy hastens ligament healing and relieves pain so that you can enjoy life again as soon as possible.

What are Symptoms of Back Muscle Pain?

Back muscle pain symptoms may range from a mild ache to sudden debilitating back pain.

Typical back muscle pain symptoms include:

  • Localised back pain, with no radiation into your buttock or leg.
  • Back muscle tenderness and/or spasm.
  • Protective back stiffness.
  • Sudden back pain onset.

You will usually feels better when resting, and may find change of position painful eg sit to stand, rolling in bed, walking or bending.

Warning Signs of a More Serious Back Injury?

In these instances, or you have constant and severe back pain, please urgently consult your nearest hospital, doctor or physiotherapist.

Neurological signs:

  • pins and needles (paraesthesia), 
  • numbness (anaesthesia),
  • leg muscle weakness, 
  • altered reflexes,
  • difficulty walking, 
  • loss of control of bladder or bowels.

How is Back Muscle Pain Diagnosed?

Differentiating a back muscle strain from a ligament sprain can be difficult, as both injuries will show similar symptoms. In general, it doesn't significantly matter what you call the problem because the treatment and prognosis for both back muscular strains and ligament sprains is similar. Most spinal practitioners refer to both injuries as a category called a “Back Strain” or "Musculoligamentous Strain".

X-rays do not identify muscle or ligament injury. MRI scan is probably the best diagnostic test to specifically identify muscle or ligament structures are injured and to what extent. CT scans may also assist.

What is Back Muscle Pain Treatment?

Seek a Professional Diagnosis!

All back pain sufferers should be thoroughly examined by a spinal health practitioner eg physiotherapist. Back pain can be caused by numerous injuries and the treatment does vary significantly depending on your diagnosis. Physiotherapy treatment for simple back pain is designed to protect your injury, while hastening your muscle and ligament healing, and then look at strategies to prevent a recurrence. 

Your physiotherapist has some nifty tricks for quickly relieving your back pain so that you can enjoy life again as soon as possible.

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Back Pain Treatment Aims

PHASE I - Pain Relief & Protection

Managing your back pain is the main reason that you seek treatment for low back pain. In truth, it was actually the final symptom that you developed and should be the first symptom to improve.

Your physiotherapist will use an array of treatment tools to protect your back and reduce your pain and inflammation. These include: ice, electrotherapy eg tens, acupuncture, taping techniques, soft tissue massage, back braces. Your doctor may also recommend a course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.

PHASE II - Restoring Normal ROM, Strength

As your back pain and inflammation settles, your physiotherapist will turn their attention to restoring your normal back motion, muscle lengths and resting muscle tension, muscle strength and endurance, proprioception, balance and gait (walking pattern).

Your physiotherapist will commence you on a lower back core stability program to facilitate your important muscles that dynamically control and stabilise your low back and pelvis. Your physiotherapist will assess your muscle recruitment pattern and prescribe the best exercises for you specific to your needs.

PHASE III - Restoring Full Function

Depending on your chosen sport, work or activities of daily living, your physiotherapist will aim to restore your function to safely allow you to return to your desired activities. Everyone has different demands for their backs that will determine what specific treatment goals you need to achieve. For some, it is simply to walk around the block. Others may wish to run a marathon.

Your physiotherapist will tailor your rehabilitation to help you achieve your own functional goals.

PHASE IV - Preventing a Back Pain Recurrence

Recurrence of low back pain can and does regularly occur. The main reason it is thought to recur is due to insufficient rehabilitation. In particular, poor deep abdominal core muscle exercises have been shown to render your back more vulnerable to instability and therefore re-injury.

To prevent a recurrence, you should continue a regular series of these exercises a few times per week. Think of your exercises as your anti-back pain pill! Your physiotherapist will assist you in identifying the best exercises for you.

Back Pain Treatment Options

There are many treatment options that your Physiotherapist will discuss with you in the treatment of your pain. Treatment varies based on the source of your individual symptoms.

Back Brace

A back brace or corset can provide excellent relief for most sciatica sufferers. Those who gain the most benefit are those who find their pain eases when they wrap/bind a towel or sheet (folded-lengthwise) tightly around their stomach and back. If this simple test eases your pain, you should use a back brace in the short-term. Back braces and strong deep core muscles help to avoid a recurrence in the future.

Back braces are available from PhysioWorks or via the following web link: Back Brace


Acupuncture has been an effective source of pain relief for over 5000 years. While we do not fully understand how it works, acupuncture can assist you pain relief. Ask your physiotherapist for advice as most of our PhysioWorks physiotherapists have acupuncture training. More info: Acupuncture


Massage always feels wonderful, plus it has wonderful muscle relaxation benefits. Massage is particularly useful when muscle spasm or chronic muscle tension is present. Regular remedial massage is also a very handy low back pain prevention strategy. More info: Massage

TENS Machine

TENS machines are an electronic pain relieving device that will reduce your pain and your need for pain relieving drugs. More info: Tens Machine

What Recovery Can You Expect?

Back pain has many causes and EARLY diagnosis and treatment is the best way to recover quickly.

Simple back muscle pain can usually improve within a week or two of injury if you manage your injury properly. However, muscular pain or spasm lasting more than a few days is normally protective spasm overlying a more significant back injury, which should be professionally investigated. It may not be just a simple back muscle strain!

Most sufferers of low back pain will recover within about four weeks. However, this time can vary greatly as it depends on both the nature of your injury and the treatment plan that you develop with your physiotherapist.

How Can You Prevent Recurring Back Pain?

If you have suffered back pain in the past, you are unfortunately more likely to suffer in the future and worsening bouts. The most common cause of recurrent back pain is insufficient rehabilitation.

Follow the advice of your physiotherapist, who will establish a treatment plan to help your both achieve your short-term goals and help prevent a recurrence.

While there are no guarantees, it is well known that active individuals who exercise and adopt safe lifting and postures at home and at work are at a reduced risk of developing low back pain.

Discuss with your physiotherapist the specific postures and activities that you perform on a daily basis. They will aim to help you to understand how to position yourself and move with the lowest risk of injury based on your injury type and potential weaknesses.

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Related Back Injuries

General Information

Muscle-related Injuries

Bone-related Injuries

Disc-related Injuries

Back Joint Injuries

Nerve-related Injuries

Pelvis-related Injuries

Pregnancy-related Pain

Systemic Diseases

Back Treatment Options

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Common Back Pain Treatments

  • Bed Rest
  • Early Injury Treatment
  • Avoid the HARM Factors
  • Soft Tissue Injury? What are the Healing Phases?
  • What to do after a Muscle Strain or Ligament Sprain?
  • Acupuncture and Dry Needling
  • Sub-Acute Soft Tissue Injury Treatment
  • Core Exercises
  • Biomechanical Analysis
  • Proprioception & Balance Exercises
  • Agility & Sport-Specific Exercises
  • Medications?
  • Ergonomics
  • Real Time Ultrasound Physiotherapy
  • Soft Tissue Massage
  • Brace or Support
  • Dry Needling
  • Electrotherapy & Local Modalities
  • Heat Packs
  • Joint Mobilisation Techniques
  • Kinesiology Tape
  • Neurodynamics
  • Physiotherapy Instrument Mobilisation (PIM)
  • Prehabilitation
  • Strength Exercises
  • Stretching Exercises
  • Supportive Taping & Strapping
  • TENS Machine
  • Video Analysis
  • Yoga
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    Helpful Products for Back Muscle Strains & Ligament Sprains

    Back Muscle Strain

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    FAQs about Back Muscle Strains & Ligament Sprains

  • Common Physiotherapy Treatment Techniques
  • What Causes Back Pain?
  • What is Pain?
  • Physiotherapy & Exercise
  • When Should Diagnostic Tests Be Performed?
  • Massage Styles and their Benefits
  • What Causes Post-Exercise Muscular Pain?
  • What are the Best Core Exercises?
  • Can Kinesiology Taping Reduce Your Swelling and Bruising?
  • Chest Pain: Is it a Heart Attack or Your Spine?
  • Heat Packs. Why Does Heat Feel So Good?
  • How Much Treatment Will You Need?
  • How to Achieve the Best Standing Posture
  • Sports Injury? What to do? When?
  • What are the Benefits of a Standing Desk?
  • What are the Benefits of Good Posture?
  • What are the Common Adolescent Spinal Injuries?
  • What are the Common Massage Therapy Techniques?
  • What are the Early Warning Signs of an Injury?
  • What are the Healthiest Sleeping Postures?
  • What are the Symptoms of a Low Back Strain?
  • What Can You Do To Help Arthritis?
  • What Causes Repeat Low Back Strains & Sprains?
  • What is a TENS Machine?
  • What is Chronic Pain?
  • What is Good Standing Posture?
  • What is Nerve Pain?
  • What is Sports Physiotherapy?
  • What is the Correct Way to Sit?
  • What to do when you suffer back pain?
  • What's the Benefit of Stretching Exercises?
  • When Can You Return to Sport?
  • Which are the Deep Core Stability Muscles?
  • Why are Sprains and Strains of the Low Back Common?
  • Why are Your Deep Core Muscles Important?
  • Why does Back Pain Recur?
  • Why Kinesiology Tape Helps Reduce Swelling and Bruising Quicker
  • Call PhysioWorks

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    Last updated 11-Oct-2019 03:45 PM

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