HealthONE - May 24, 2018

When someone says they “threw out their back,” what does that actually mean? Can you throw out your back and do permanent damage?

Luckily, throwing out your back is usually a temporary situation. For someone experiencing acute onset low back pain, there are ways to speed up recovery and prevent this. Here’s what you need to know about throwing out your back — and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again:

Can anyone throw out their back? How do I know if I’m at risk?
Anyone can throw out their back or experience acute back pain, but these incidents become more common as you age. People who have jobs that are physically demanding, like ones that involve a lot of lifting or bending, are more prone to throwing out their back. However, office workers who sit for extended periods of time can also experience low back pain, especially if they don’t have adequate back support while performing their jobs.

Lack of exercise or poor physical fitness is another risk factor for throwing out your back. A person who is sedentary during the week, then goes out on the weekend and participates in sports or other high-impact activities, could also be at risk for throwing out their back.

What causes this intense lower back pain?
Usually, throwing your back out is presumably due to a muscle strain, which is likely caused by lifting a heavy item or bending the wrong way. These muscles can tighten up or go into a spasm, which is what causes the pain. This type of pain can vary, but usually occurs in the lumbar spine, the low back area right above your buttocks.

While uncommon, acute lower back pain can be caused by a more serious medical issue, such as an infection, a broken vertebra or even cancer. These health problems are more likely to occur in people over the age of 50, those who’ve already had cancer, people who are taking steroids long-term, heavy drug users, or adults who have pre-existing medical conditions.

Along with low back pain, seek medical attention immediately if you’re experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain, weakness or loss of feeling in the legs
  • Pain so severe that it limits your ability to do simple things
  • Bladder control or bowel movement issues
  • Weight loss that can’t be explained
  • Fever or other symptoms of illness

Will the back pain go away on its own?
In most cases, yes. The pain caused by throwing out your back will go away on its own and you don’t need to consult a medical professional. Here are some at-home remedies to help with the pain:

  • In the first 72 hours after throwing out your back, apply ice to ease the pain
  • After the third day, you can use heating pads to relieve the pain
  • Pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen could also help, but check with your doctor about which medications you should or should not take

These methods won’t “cure” or “fix” your pain, but they might make you feel better.

Should I rest after throwing out my back, or try to move?
In the first few days after you throw your back out, you should try to move around some. Staying moderately active has been proven to help with recovery. Moving around can stimulate blood flow, increase flexibility and prevent spasms.

While in recovery, stay away from doing any high-impact sports or activities. Especially avoid “BLT” — bending, lifting or twisting while you’re still recovering.

I’ve thrown my back out before. How do I prevent this?
There are multiple ways to prevent acute onset lower back pain caused by lifting or bending. To keep your back healthy, it’s all about maintaining good posture and learning the proper way to bend, lift, push, pull and carry large or heavy objects.

Getting regular physical activity is also important. You want to make sure you’re strengthening your core and your legs, and also keeping your quadriceps strong. These are the muscles you use when lifting. Flexibility is also key, as certain muscle groups get tighter as you age.

You can’t always know when and if you’ll throw your back out, but you can take steps to reduce your risk of acute onset lower back pain.

Visit our providers at OrthoONE if you experience more serious issues.