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Did I Strain or Stretch My Back?

by Stretch Zone

At Stretch Zone, we provide assistance with lower back stretches to many clients. We’re happy to provide relief for this discomfort, but sometimes people wonder what the root issue is. For example, it’s difficult to distinguish between a strained back and a sprained one.

In this article, we’ll discuss many of the reasons why you might be experiencing back discomfort. We hope this helps you get the relief you deserve.

What Is the Difference Between Strains and Sprains? 

While strains and sprains can both lead to discomfort in your back, they’re related to fundamentally different parts of your body.

Sprains occur when a ligament moves farther than it should go, leading to stretching or tearing. Ligaments are connective tissue for joints.

Strains occur when muscles or tendons are overstretched or torn. Tendons are connective tissues for muscles and bones.

Both strains and sprains happen during physical activity, though the motions that cause them differ. Sprains typically occur when you twist something the wrong way, which is why they’re so often associated with ankles.

Strains, on the other hand, are more likely to occur because you push or stretch something too far. While they can occur quickly, they’re more likely the result of repetitive movements over time.

Which is Worse: A Sprain or a Strain?

Without knowing other factors, it’s difficult to say whether a sprain or a strain is worse. Both can be mild or severe, though the recovery time for sprains is typically longer. This is because muscles receive more blood flow than ligaments.

Both sprains and strains are preferable to a broken bone.

Who Is at Risk for Sprains or Strains? 

Both injuries are common, but there are some risk factors that can increase your likelihood of experiencing them. These risk factors include weight, bad posture, and physical activity that requires extensive pushing and pulling (e.g., weightlifting).

For strains, you should be mindful of repetitive motions that can lead to overuse of specific muscles. This is one reason why you don’t want to engage in the same exercises every day.

For sprains, you’ll want to be mindful of not twisting your spine sharply in any unnatural directions.

What Are the Symptoms of Strains and Sprains?

Strains and sprains both present discomforts found in your lower back. There isn’t a specific side where they’re more likely to emanate from.

Depending on what stage of the recovery process you’re currently in, it may hurt to move. For the first few days your body will need to rest as it begins repairing itself. However, after that, motion is important for allowing you to return to your normal, everyday life.

If you’re experiencing spasms, you’re likely dealing with a muscle strain. Bruising around an area is more indicative of a sprain.

It also helps to understand when you first began to feel the discomfort. If there was a specific moment where it felt like a joint moved out of place, you probably experienced a sprain. Strains are more likely to occur after repetitive movements.

Can a Sprain Heal on Its Own? 

Yes, some sprains can heal on their own. There are three grades of sprains:

Grade one sprains heal the most easily. The ligament is stretched, not torn, which means that there are only microscopic tears that your body needs to repair.
Grade two sprains are less likely to heal on their own, since the ligament is partially, but not fully, torn.
Grade three sprains are the most likely to need surgery, though this is not always the case. In this grade, the ligament is completely torn.

If you have a grade one sprain, it will typically heal on its own, provided that you rest it. However, sprains that are grade two or higher should receive some form of medical attention. The necessity of surgery and/or physical therapy varies based on your situation.

The major goal of any treatment is to improve your range of motion, especially for strains that are grades one or two. It helps if your range of motion was already extensive before you received the injury.

How cold weather affects joints

Can A Strain Heal on Its Own? 

Yes, most strains can heal on their own. The first step in this process is actually inflammation. Blood flow increases to the injured area, giving that area the white blood cells it needs to rejuvenate.

At the same time, you want to prevent too much swelling, which is why it’s useful to apply ice and compression early on during the recovery process.

In some cases, you’ll need to follow a plan set by a physical therapist to improve the muscle’s strength and your body’s range of motion. For milder cases, your body will be able to heal itself.

How Long Does It Take Sprains and Strains to Heal? 

How long it takes a sprain or strain to heal will depend on its severity.

Strains typically take no more than six weeks to heal. You should speak with a medical professional who can ascertain the specifics of your situation, but past that timeline you’re probably dealing with a major strain. This makes you more likely to need surgery or some other corrective medical procedure.

Sprains tend to have a shorter recovery time, with four weeks typically being the upper limit of what you might expect.

Recovery time improves if you’re able to move around and prevent your body from stiffening. That said, you want to be especially careful with strains, which can be prone to reinjury.

What Should I Do If I Have Lower Back Discomfort? 

Both strains and sprains cause aches that you’ll want to address and deal with. We’ll discuss how to do so below.

Is My Back Discomfort Serious? 

Any discomfort you’re feeling should of course be taken seriously because it negatively affects you. However, there are a few telltale signs that you may be experiencing a medical emergency. These include fever, difficulty with bowel movements, and paralysis in one or both legs.

Lower back stretches are excellent for soothing any discomfort you’re feeling, but if you’re experiencing these symptoms – or you think you may be experiencing a medical issue for any other reason, we recommend speaking with a medical professional.

Lower Back Discomfort and Sleep 

No one wants to toss and turn all night because of the discomfort they’re experiencing. One of the ways to resolve this is ensuring that you’re sleeping in the right position.

Can a Bed Cause Lower Back Discomfort? 

Yes, the wrong bed can cause this discomfort. While you’re sleeping, you want to find a mattress that aligns the spine, while providing the level of support your body needs.

Without this support, you’re going to face problems. People don’t typically buy mattresses that hurt to sleep on, but it’s easy to forget that a bed degrades over time, meaning they do need to be replaced.

What If I Can’t Determine the Cause for My Lower Back Discomfort? 

There are sometimes situations where the source of your lower back discomfort cannot be determined. If an underlying issue can’t be detected by medical professionals, it’s typically best to focus on reducing your discomfort.

What Can I Do to Decrease Lower Back Discomfort? 

The best remedy for lower back discomfort will vary depending on what your doctor says. There are many potential solutions, including:

Medication
Physical Therapy
Surgery

These can all be difficult processes to go through, which is why practitioner-assisted lower back stretches are ideal if none of the above are deemed necessary by a medical professional.

Stretching and Back Discomfort 

If you’re experiencing back discomfort, physical activity is one of the best things you can do to relieve the discomfort. Whether the issue is because of a strain, a sprain, or even a tight fascia, often you want to improve the range of motion to reduce stiffness and get your body back to normal.

Of course, the type of stretching you engage in matters.

Does Stretching Help Heal Sprains? 

In the immediate aftermath of a sprain, you won’t want to stretch just yet. Your body needs time to heal. However, you should notice the swelling and discomfort begin to subside.

At this point, which takes roughly a week, you can begin stretching. Physical activity is important to help improve your range of motion and help your body get back to normal.

Practitioner-assisted stretching is ideal here, as it ensures you’re working with a professional who can prevent you from pushing past your limits.

At StretchZone, we have a numerical system that lets clients indicate how comfortable they are with a stretch. This helps us push them far enough to extend the range of motion, without pushing so far as to cause discomfort.

Does Stretching Help Heal Strains? 

As with sprains, it’s important to avoid stretching in the immediate aftermath of a strain. The muscle or tendon in question is already overworked, and stretching would merely exacerbate the problem.

That said, once your body has begun healing, you’ll be ready to stretch again. This is imperative for improving your range of motion and allowing you to feel normal again.

After your muscle recovers from a strain, there is still scar tissue that has replaced muscle tissue. Experts theorize that this makes strained muscles more susceptible to pre-injury. It is therefore essential to take preventative measures to prevent future injury in the area.

Practitioner-assisted stretching helps keep your body limber, making it less susceptible to strains.

Can You Stretch Out a Back Spasm? 

Back spasms are one of the more severe symptoms of muscle strain, causing discomfort that’s difficult to ignore. In some cases, this can last for weeks.

It is possible to relieve these spasms when stretching, but you have to be careful when doing so. For one thing, your back needs to relax. When active stretching, it’s all too easy to force the area to exert itself. This puts additional strain on an already troubled area.

If done correctly, though, stretching is an excellent way of soothing the troubled area, reducing the amount of discomfort you feel while also helping with recovery. Passive stretching is key to preventing yourself from overstretching the area.

You also want to choose a stretch practitioner who has the training necessary to understand the positions that will help you recover, as opposed to the positions that might worsen your spasms.

Woman stretching with stretch zone trainer

Can Stretching Help Reduce Back Spasms? 

Spasms often arise from a tightness in the back, which stretching can help you loosen. Therefore, even if you’re not currently experiencing spasms, practitioner-assisted stretching is a great preventative measure.

Can Stretching Lead to Strains or Sprains? 

Stretching is very unlikely to cause a back sprain. That said, it can lead to overstretching, which in turn increases your risk of strain.

This is why we’re such strong proponents of practitioner-assisted stretching. Simply having the knowledge of a stretch practitioner is already valuable, but these sessions also give you the chance to engage in passive stretching, as opposed to active stretching.

Active stretching requires you to use the strength of your muscles to attain and maintain a position. This is simply less comfortable, which means you’re more likely to hurt yourself and less likely to push yourself to improve your range of motion.

With passive stretching, you’re not using your own strength. Instead, it’s the practitioner’s muscles and equipment that are helping you find and maintain the right position.

Should You Stretch Before Playing a Sport to Reduce Chance of Injury? 

Stretching is a bit more complicated than you might remember from your school days. While it’s an important way of loosening your body, improving your range of motion, and reducing the likelihood of injury, this doesn’t mean that active stretching needs to be done before you exercise.

In fact, it’s better to stretch when your muscles are warm.

This means that practitioner-assisted stretching isn’t just useful if you’re preparing for a workout later in the day. Instead, it can be done whenever you have enough time.

Looking to Try Practitioner-Assisted Lower Back Stretches?

If so, look for a StretchZone location near you. Our practitioners are trained in upper, middle, and lower back stretches, which means you can rest easy knowing you’re in good hands when you visit one of our studios.

If you let your practitioner know you’re dealing with a strain, sprain, or spasm, they will plan your stretching session accordingly. You can book an appointment for a 30-minute session on our website. Even better, your first practitioner-assisted stretch is free!

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