Back Strain or Back Sprain – When to See a Doctor or Physician Assistant

by Mark Wells, PA-C

You’re playing with the kids, stretching to catch your dog before it runs out of the gate and BAM!  You feel something ‘go funky’ in your back, and then, all of a sudden you ‘can’t move’.  What is going on?

Chances are, you’ve just strained or sprained your back!  In fact, a strained or sprained back is the most common cause of back pain.  For most of us, in our lifetime, we will experience this at least once.

While, the pain can be extreme, the good news is threefold:

  • it’s just a muscle strain or sprain
  • the muscles tend to recover on their own
  • the timeframe to recover is 1-to-2 weeks.

The first line of defense is ‘initial rest’.  Try one day, then if the pain persists, take another day to rest.  Obviously, reduce your activities, apply cold compresses, apply heat and take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen.  Some physical therapy may be helpful, not only to alleviate the current and painful symptoms, but to also educate you, so you don’t do it again!

When Should You See a Doctor?

Patients often ask, “When SHOULD I see a doctor?”  Doctors will tell you that back muscle sprains or strains will typically resolve themselves within several days to up to 2 weeks.  If you don’t feel you’ve achieved any relief in that amount of time, there may be something more serious going on and you should go see a doctor.