You’ve probably heard someone say that they’ve “thrown out” their back, but what does that really mean, and what should you do if it happens to you?
Throwing out your back is a general figure of speech used to describe sudden acute back pain. This type of back injury typically happens as the result of some activity, such as attempting to lift a heavy object, gardening or playing sports. Sometimes even the simplest movement, such as bending over, can cause you to “throw out your back.”
Acute back pain can be caused by a number of things, such as a disk injury or muscle spasm. In rare cases, the pain may be the result of a tumor or infection in the back.
It’s important to know what to do if you throw out your back. Use these tips to get relief from your acute back pain:
Stop and rest. As soon as the pain occurs, stop what you’re doing and find a place where you can lie flat on your stomach, with your hands relaxed by your side. A hard surface may be most comfortable. This keeps your back in a neutral position while allowing your back muscles to relax, releasing the pressure on the nerves in your back. If you can’t lie down immediately, move upright and into a posture that allows your spine to stay in a neutral position.
Apply ice. For the first 24 to 48 hours of your pain, an ice pack can help relieve pain associated with swelling. If your pain lasts longer than two days, switch to heat.
Take anti-inflammatories. An over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help provide some pain relief and reduce swelling. If over-the-counter pain medicine doesn’t take the edge off, contact your doctor.
Call your doctor. If your pain lasts more than 24 hours, contact your doctor. It’s important to rule out any serious injuries that may require more advanced treatment. If your doctor determines that your pain is caused by a muscle spasm, you should be able to continue treatment on your own.
Stretch and exercise. Strengthening your core muscles is important for preventing future back injuries. Work on strengthening both your back and abdominal muscles to keep your body in balance. If you focus on your abs without paying attention to your back, you may be putting yourself at risk for future injury. Stretching exercises can help restore flexibility and range of motion while providing some pain relief.
Don’t bend, lift or twist. Once you begin recovering from your back pain and are able to stand upright, avoid any bending, lifting or twisting that can further compromise your back and worsen your pain. If you must pick something up off the floor, keep your spine straight with your core engaged. Gently drop your tailbone into the squat position and look up to help keep your spine straight. When performing daily tasks, such as washing dishes, bend at your hips, keeping your back in a neutral position. If you need to turn, turn your whole body rather than twisting your spine.
Recovering from an acute back injury takes some time. Be patient and allow your back time to heal before jumping back into normal activities. Stay in touch with your physician if your back pain does not improve or resolve in a few days.