Lumbar Strain: A Different Kind of Back Pain

Is your refrain these days, “Oh my aching back”? Back pain is not something to shrug off. It’s the most common complaint related to workplace disability claims. Early diagnosis and treatment can help head off having to take sick leave; if you have back pain, it might be time to see an orthopedic specialist. A common cause of back pain is lumbar strain. 

Led by board-certified orthopedic and spine surgeon Nasser Ani, MD, FACS, FRCS(C), the team of specialists at Ani Medical Group of Hazlet and Old Bridge, New Jersey, treat most types of back pain and often see patients who are diagnosed with lumbar strain. 

What is a lumbar strain? 

Your lower back holds your lumbar vertebrae in your spinal cord. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments surround those vertebrae. They have a job that requires heavy lifting because they support your entire upper body and enable you to twist and bend. 

A lumbar strain diagnosis means that you’ve hurt the muscles and tendons surrounding the spine in that area. Some activity you’ve engaged in, whether it’s sports, a hobby, or your work, has stretched those muscles too far, to the point that they now may have tears in them. They now can’t hold your spinal column in place as they should. No wonder your back is hurting.  

What causes lumbar strain? 

Athletes who engage the muscles of the lumbar area are prone to a lumbar strain. If you play sports requiring sharp twisting or bending the lower back, like tennis, baseball, or golf, you’re prone to this injury. Weight lifters are also at risk because of the severe strain placed on the muscles in the lumbar area.  

Anatomy may play a role in this injury. If you’re swayback, meaning your lower back has exaggerated curvature, and your pelvis is tilting too far forward, your back is weak. Weak abdominal muscles that can’t do their job of supporting your spine can also trigger lumbar strain. 

Treatment for lumbar strain 

Following are effective treatments for lumbar strain. 

Rest, but not bed rest 

You’ve injured your lower back muscles, so it’s time for a timeout from the activity that triggered your pain. If it’s work-related, your physician can provide a note temporarily excusing you. If it’s sports-related, you need a respite from the activity for now. Physicians advise against extended bed rest because the injured muscles will get weaker, furthering back instability. 


You’re likely already taking over-the-counter pain medication. Your doctor may order a muscle relaxant and can contain a stronger prescription pain medication if needed for temporary use. (Long-term use of painkillers has harmful side effects.) 

Ice, then heat 

First, apply ice packs to your lower back several times a day for two to three days to calm inflammation and pain. Once the inflammation has subsided, use heat, but only after any swelling has disappeared. 

Physical therapy 

Once your initial pain has lessened, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. The therapy engages you in gentle stretching and strengthening exercises for your lower back and abdominal muscles, in addition to other modalities that aid healing, including gentle massage, electrical stimulation, and ice and heat. 

Your therapist provides written instructions and diagrams that show you how to do the exercises at home every day. To help avoid future lumbar strain, you need to incorporate these exercises into your daily or weekly routine. 

We’re here to support your musculoskeletal health. From back pain to foot injuries, contact the Ani Medical Group by calling 732-264-8282 or request an appointment online.


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