What is an Acute Back Injury?
Acute back injuries are the second most common reason for doctor’s visits, just behind colds and flus. An acute back injury is one that happens suddenly. It can be caused by any number of accidents or incidents of poor body mechanics, such as poor lifting. It is different from a chronic back condition, which can come on over years of stress on your back.
What Causes Acute Back Injuries?
Sudden back pain can have many causes. One of the most common is lifting an object that is too heavy or lifting incorrectly. This will often cause pain right away. In other cases, an acute back injury can be suffered after a motor vehicle accident. The force of the crash can put enormous stress on your back, leading to strains or even muscle tears in the back. Bending, reaching, or twisting can also lead to acute back injuries that cause significant pain.
Severe back pain can be caused by conditions that put stress and pressure on nerve roots, such as herniated discs and spinal stenosis. Although rare, acute back pain can occur as a result of spinal tumors that grow on the spinal cord or on nerve endings or due to bacterial infections.
Symptoms of Acute Back Injury
People who have suffered an acute back injury will almost always feel pain. The pain level and the type of pain can vary. Some individuals will feel a dull but persistent ache. Others will feel a sharp pain. Pain may or may not get worse when standing or sitting in different positions or during activity.
Stiffness is another common symptom of an acute back injury. It may occur soon after the injury or set in after a couple of days. Range of movement may be limited due to either pain or stiffness. Muscle spasms may occur, which are often exacerbated by movement.
Diagnosing an Acute Back Injury
If you have suffered a back injury, the first step will be going over your medical history and performing a physical exam. Your healthcare provider will discuss what you were doing when you started experiencing back pain, the nature of the pain, and how long you have had it. In some cases, additional diagnostic tests may be necessary to determine the nature of your injury. X-rays, MRIs, and other tests can reveal where there is damage in your back that could be causing your pain.
Acute Back Injury Treatment
The treatment for your back pain will depend on its cause. Some of the treatments ordered may include:
- NSAIDs or other painkillers – Both over-the-counter and prescription pain medications can help reduce pain and swelling around the injured area.
- Muscle relaxants – If muscle spasms are causing your lower back pain, medication to help those muscles relax can help.
- Corticosteroids – These medications, injected at the injured area, can reduce inflammation and speed healing.
- Rest, ice, and heat – You may be instructed to rest the area that is injured to allow it to heal. Ice can be helpful in the first days after an injury, as it numbs the area and reduces inflammation. Heat therapy can help later on by relaxing muscles.
- Massage or chiropractic – Each of these therapies can reduce pain and help you heal.