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What Does It Mean to “Throw Out Your Back?”

MIllions of Americans are afflicted with lower back pain every day. And many of them find themselves saying “Oh no, I’ve thrown out my back!” But what does this mean? Throwing out your back is a circumstance in which a painful, debilitating spasm in your back occurs suddenly, out of nowhere, causing your back to seize up. It can be caused by a forceful exertion such as moving furniture, or even something as simple as a sneeze. The pain can be described as a twinge of discomfort to an intense pain that prevents you from being able to move. The pain and discomfort will last usually until the muscle relaxes on its own and the swelling and inflammation go down.

Throwing out your back is brought on by an injury to the muscles in the back, or injury to the nerves, ligaments and/or myofascia attached to the muscles of the spine. Spinal injuries may lead to muscle spasms that cause you to throw your back out since the spine is the starting point for the nerves that supply the muscle. Disc injuries or facet joint arthritis are examples of such spinal injuries.

You can do your best to prevent these types of spasms by exercising, living a healthy lifestyle, and being careful not to lift objects that are too heavy. But in the event you do throw out your back, here is a list of treatments that can help relieve the pain.

  • Rest: Rest your body until the spasms subside. Lay on your back, in a neutral position with a pillow under your knees to keep your spine in alignment. Try to lay on a hard, flat surface rather than a soft, cushy one. But it is important to get back to your normal routine as soon as you can. Extended amounts of time lying down is not helpful for back pain.
  • Pain relievers: Over the counter anti-inflammatory medications such as naproxen or ibuprofen can provide pain relief as well as a reduction in swelling.
  • Ice: Apply ice to the pain area for 10-20 minutes at a time (not directly on the skin), every 2 hours, for the first 24-48 hours. Ice decreases swelling and inflammation, and provides pain relief.
  • Heat: Take a shower, bath or use a heating pad to relieve pain and relax the muscles.
  • Massage: Massage therapy has been shown to provide relief for back pain.
  • Strengthen & Stretch: Throwing out your back happens because the back is not strong enough or flexible enough for the work your were trying to do. After the pain subsides, focus on strengthening the back muscles and work on flexibility. This will reduce the risk of throwing your back out again. Exercise can also help relieve back pain.

If you have any questions or concerns about your back pain, please call the office of Dr. Neil Badlani, a Board-Certified Spine Surgeon in Houston.