You’ve been here before. You’re tired of the way the living room looks. It’s time for a change, so you start thinking, “The sofa would look so nice over there.” You don’t wait for help, heck, you don’t even need to stretch—you got this. You grab one end of the couch, lift, and feel it instantly. Now you have a pulled back muscle.
If you’ve missed work because of back pain, you’re not alone. Researchers with the American Chiropractic Association say it’s the most common reason people take a day off. And 80 percent of us can expect to experience a back problem at some point.
Even if you don’t consider your back problem to be serious, the pain probably is. So, let’s look at some of the most common causes, symptoms and ways to treat a pulled back muscle.
What Causes a Pulled Back Muscle?
A pulled back muscle usually comes with an “Oh no” moment. Like when you’re moving something heavy and suddenly, you feel it. A pulled back muscle, or any pulled muscle, is typically traumatic in nature.
Essentially, a pulled muscle is tearing of the muscle fibers. Your muscles were pulling so hard, the force caused a rip or tear.
Pulled Back Muscle Checklist
Here’s a checklist of the signs and symptoms of a true pulled muscle that the researchers at Pain Science put together. The questions you should ask yourself include:
- Did it hit you suddenly during strong stretching, a moment of athletic intensity or while lifting something heavy?
- Do you have just one muscle (or muscle group) that’s both weak and painful to use?
- Is there a spot in the muscle that’s especially sensitive?
If you can answer “Yes” to one or more of these questions, you may have a pulled back muscle.
Symptoms of a Pulled Back Muscle
A pulled back muscle will hurt to touch. It may even be a little deformed or have a bump. The pain will be most intense for the first day or two. It’s normal to experience sharper pains with movement.
Treating a Pulled Back Muscle
The first thing you’ll want to do to treat your pulled back muscle is to ice it. The faster you can apply ice, the faster you will reduce pain, control swelling and start the healing process.
Use ice at regular intervals—15 to 20 minutes at a time. Icing less than that may not provide any benefit, but if you ice too long you’re risking frostbite. Ice until the injury is numb and wait at least 45 minutes before icing again.
Use ice for the first few days, and when the worst is over you can switch to heat. You have a couple of options:
- Dry Heat—heating pads, dry heating packs and even saunas.
- Moist heat—steamed towels, moist heating packs or hot baths.
You also have to rest. A pulled back muscle won’t heal if you keep trying to use it. Compared to many other kinds of back injuries, a pulled muscle is usually straightforward to diagnose and easy to treat. And symptoms usually resolve within 4 to 6 weeks. But some severe muscle injuries, such as a complete muscle tear, can take months to heal.