How to Treat a Pulled Lower Back Muscle

A pulled lower back muscle is debilitating enough to keep you out of your favorite activities for a few days or even weeks. It can be very frustrating, especially if you are just setting out to achieve one of your fitness goals. Thankfully, this is a very common injury and easily treatable, unless you have a severely pulled muscle.

A strained lower back is the result of an acute or overuse injury. (Image: grinvalds/iStock/Getty Images)

Muscle Strain

Pulled muscles are also known as strains, which can affect either the muscle itself or the tendon, which is a thick band of tissue that connects the muscle to the bone. Muscle strains can range from a mild or moderate overstretch of the muscle or a partial tear. In severe cases, a strain may indicate a complete tear.

There are two different ways that you can get a muscle strain: overuse or an acute injury.

Acute Sprains

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons explains sports like soccer, football, hockey, wrestling and other contact sports put you at risk for muscle strains. They also cite explosive sports that require quick starts, like hurdling, long jump and running races as potentials for acute strains.

Overuse Sprains

Overuse sprains are a result of a chronic overuse of lower back muscles or tendons. According to the Cleveland Clinic's website, poor posture, weak abdominal muscles, tight hamstrings and being overweight can put undue stress on your lower back muscles, which increases your risk for a muscle strain.

These problems are all preventable with an exercise program that focuses on proper stretches for the hamstrings, strengthening of the abdominal muscles, and proper instruction on how to lift and handle heavy objects.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The most common symptoms of a pulled lower back muscle are: sudden lower back pain, spasms in the lower back and feeling sore to the touch in that area. A doctor might order an X-Ray, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), EMG (electromyograph) or radionucleotide bone scan to confirm that you have a pulled lower back muscle.

Most lower back strains can be fixed with RICE. (Image: bowie15/iStock/Getty Images)


Once it is confirmed that you have a pulled lower back muscle, the treatment is relatively simple. The first steps can be done at home and are known as RICE: rest, ice, compress and elevate the injury. For the first week after your injury, it's best to avoid activity, apply ice and take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as you let the swelling go down.

Physical Therapy

Once you've taken care of the swelling, you need to focus on doing exercises and stretches for your lower back. A physical therapist can provide you with ones that are appropriate for your degree of injury and fitness level. You can return to all of your activities once you are pain-free, have full range of motion and experience full strength.


If this treatment doesn't make your injury better, you might have a more serious muscle strain. It's possible to have a complete tear in your muscle, which would require surgery and have a longer recovery period. It's important that you see a doctor if your symptoms don't get better to rule out this more serious condition.

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