Back pain is very common as an estimated 80% of Americans experience back pain at some time in their life.1 Back strains and sprains are one of the leading causes of back pain, so knowing the difference between these injuries is important to your understanding of your body and how to recover.
While sprains and strains display similar symptoms and require similar treatment, there are key differences. A strain and sprain differ in the type of tissue damaged and the usual cause of the injury.
A back strain occurs when a back muscle or tendon becomes twisted, pulled, or torn. Tendons are strong inelastic fibrous tissue that connects the muscle to bone. This differs from a back sprain where a ligament in the spine becomes overstretched or torn. Ligaments are also strong fibrous tissue, but unlike tendons, they are flexible and connect two or more bones together at joints.
Back strains are typically caused by improper lifting or excessive stress on the back. This can cause tension in the back muscles or tendons resulting in a tear. Back strains can also be developed over time from chronic overuse of the back muscles. In contrast, back sprains are generally caused by a sudden blow or twist at a back joint causing the ligaments to overstretch, usually in the direction opposite of normal motion.
Both back strains and sprains display similar symptoms including pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of movement. Additionally, both sprains and strains are treated by the RICE method and pain medication. Symptoms for both injuries typically resolve within a few weeks.
While these injuries have similarities and definite differences, both back strains and sprains are serious and can worsen if untreated. If you suffer from back pain and are unsure if it’s due to a strain or sprain, reach out to Dr. Chandra for an examination today!
Dr. Ramesh Chandra has been practicing orthopedic surgery in the Washington DC Metropolitan area since 1984. The Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine is easily accessed from anywhere in the Washington DC metropolitan area, with offices located in Falls Church, Reston/Herndon, and Tysons Corner.