Back pain is something almost everyone deals with at some point in their lives, but determining whether it's a pinched nerve, spinal problem, strained muscle or pulled muscle can be difficult without a physician's examination. However, certain symptoms may help you diagnose the pain as a pulled muscle. Unfortunately, if you do have a pulled muscle in your back, there isn't much you can other than rest it, ice it (if possible) and let nature take its course. But if you have persistent back pain that lasts for more than one week or appears to be increasing in severity, you should definitely seek medical attention.
Mount Sinai Medical Center lists immediate pain and discomfort as one of the first signs of a pulled muscle. The next signal is that when you try to use or exert that muscle, you experience pain immediately.
Swelling and Tenderness
After the initial injury (a pulled muscle is the stretching or tearing of smaller fibers in a muscle or tendon), the area around the affected muscle is likely to be tender to the touch. Mount Sinai says you may experience some swelling and even a bruise under the surface of the skin if the injury is serious enough and the muscle is close to the surface.
Relief with Rest and Some Activity
The University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) reports that in most acute low back pain cases (most often caused by muscle pulls or strains), the problem essentially resolves itself in about four to six weeks with some rest and careful physical activity. But the doctors there advise against too much rest. The UMHS states: "Lying in bed or cutting back on activity is not helpful. People get better faster if they stay active at home and work. Common exercise such as walking, swimming or riding a stationary bike can be helpful in many cases."