Back Muscle Pain

Back Muscle Pain

Article by John Miller


Back Muscle Pain

What Is Back Muscle Pain?

Back muscle pain or its many aliases: pulled back muscle, muscular back pain, back muscle spasm, torn back muscle or back muscle strain, is widespread.

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, back muscular strains, ligament sprains and joint dysfunction occur 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 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 reduced joint stabilisation and subsequent injury to your back muscles, ligaments, joints or even spinal discs.

Poor Posture

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

Ligament Sprains

Ligaments are the durable, fibrous bands that limit the amount of movement 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 prevalent 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 the 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 or spasm.
  • Protective back stiffness.
  • Sudden back pain onset.

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

How is Back Muscle Pain Diagnosed?

back muscle pain

Differentiating a back muscle strain from a ligament sprain can be difficult, as both injuries 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 are 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 accurately determine whether muscle or ligament structures are injured and to what extent. CT scans may also assist.

Please consult your trusted back pain physiotherapist or a spinal healthcare practitioner for your specific advice.

What is Back Muscle Pain Treatment?

Seek a Professional Diagnosis!

A spinal health practitioner, e.g. back physiotherapist or doctor, should carefully examine all back pain. Numerous injuries can cause back pain, and the treatment does vary significantly depending on your diagnosis. Physiotherapy treatment for pure back pain protects your damage 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.

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 the final symptom that you developed and should be the first symptom to improve.

Your physiotherapist will use various treatment tools to protect your back and reduce your pain and inflammation. These include ice, electrotherapy, e.g. 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 allow you to return to your desired activities safely. Everyone has different demands for their backs that will determine what specific treatment goals you need to achieve. For some, it is merely 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 f recur is due to insufficient rehabilitation. In particular, weak deep abdominal core muscle exercises have been shown to render your back more vulnerable to instability and, therefore, re-injury.

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

Back Brace

A back brace or corset can provide excellent relief for most sciatica sufferers. Those who gain the most benefit find their pain eases when they wrap/bind a towel or sheet (folded-lengthwise) tightly around their stomach and back. If this simple test relieves 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 a useful source of pain relief for over 5000 years. While we do not fully understand how it works, acupuncture can assist you with pain relief. Ask your physiotherapist for advice as most of our PhysioWorks physiotherapists have acupuncture training. More info: Acupuncture


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

TENS Machine

TENS machines are electronic pain-relieving devices 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.

Pure back muscle pain can usually improve within a week or two of injury if you manage your damage correctly. However, muscular pain or spasm lasting more than a few days often is a protective spasm overlying a more significant back injury. It may not be just a pure back muscle strain! Please have them professionally investigated.

Most sufferers of low back pain will recover within about four weeks. However, this period can vary. It depends on the nature of your injury and the treatment plan 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 you 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 work are at a reduced risk of developing low back pain.

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

Article by John Miller

Youth Spinal Pain

Teenager Neck & Back Pain

teenager back pain

Teenagers can be particularly vulnerable to back pain, mainly due to a combination of high flexibility and low muscle strength and posture control. 

The competitive athlete and most individuals who exercise regularly or maintain fitness and core stability control are less prone to spine injury and problems due to the strength and flexibility of supporting structures. Luckily, issues involving the lower lumbar spine are rare in athletes and account for less than 10% of sports-related injuries. Injuries do occur in contact sports and with repetitive strain sports. Your physiotherapist can assist in the resolution of any deficits in this area.

Sports such as gymnastics, cricket fast bowlers, and tennis have a higher incidence of associated lumbar spine problems related to repetitive twisting and hyper-bending motions.

Spondylolisthesis is a significant concern and needs to be appropriately treated by a physiotherapist with a particular interest in these types of injuries. Luckily, most injuries are minor, self-limited, and respond quickly to physiotherapy treatment.

Common Adolescent Spinal Injuries

Lower Back (Lumbar Spine)

Midback (Thoracic Spine)

Neck (Cervical Spine)


For specific advice regarding youth neck or back pain, please seek the professional advice of your trusted spinal physiotherapist or doctor.

Common Youth & Teenager Sports Injuries

Common Youth Leg Injuries

Common Youth Arm Injuries