A back sprain usually occurs when the ligaments of the back are overstretched or torn, due to a repetitive stress kind of injury or to a trauma/accident. The amount of back pain that a person experiences due to these sprained ligaments is usually proportional to the severity of the injury.
Ligaments are strong and elastic, but they can be overstretched to the point of injury. This is what a doctor means by sprain. Though ligaments are very strong, and rarely get torn to the point of rupture, stretching of these ligaments can cause inflammation, pain, swelling, and loss of function. Though the areas of the body most likely to sprain are the finger, wrist, knee, and ankle, all joints of the body may be susceptible. Typically, most sprains are not serious enough to cause loss of function, and you can usually work through it without major limitations, as long as the area is not seriously immobilized or painful. But serious sprains in the back, neck, shoulders, knees, and hips may cause unbearable pain and loss of work productivity. If you are unable to continue working or to do daily chores, it may be a serious problem that you should seek medical attention for. Sprains come in varying degrees:
Symptoms and Treatments. The symptoms of back sprain due to stretching and tearing of the ligaments are often similar to other types of soft tissue injuries of the back. For example, back sprains involving the ligaments and bulging/herniated discs both may cause weakness of the nearby muscles, muscle spasms, severe and constant pain, and "referred pain" to distant sites. Back sprains usually involve the muscles and ligaments of the lower back, and are thus called lumbar sprains or lumbar sprains. Typical treatments for lumbar sprains include back strengthening exercises, rest, medications, and physical therapy. In cases of third-degree sprains of ligaments or ruptured muscles, surgery may be required to re-attach the muscles and soft tissues.
- A first-degree sprain involves stretching of the ligament and possibly some minor tears. Symptoms of a first-degree sprain typically include mild pain, some joint stiffness, and possibly swelling. Patients with this type of back sprain usually recover in a short amount of time, with without treatment or medical intervention.
- A second-degree sprain involves minor tears in the fibers of the ligament, with only minimal joint instability. A sprain with these types of tears in the ligaments may cause more pain, cause swelling of the joint, and involve some instability of the joint. These types of sprains heal more slowly, and may require medical intervention. Patients who don't treat these injuries properly or aren't careful, may re-injure the joint and doing more damage.
- A third-degree sprain involves a rupture of the ligament and involves severe joint instability. More pain and swelling are associated with this type of sprain than that of a second-degree sprain. People with this sprain will typically be unable to use that joint without severe pain. Patients with sprains in weight-bearing joints typically won't be able to put any weight on them. Patients will usually require emergency treatment from medical professionals to ensure that the ligament heals correctly and fully.