CareNow® - April 25, 2022

When to go to urgent care for back pain

Back pain will affect almost everyone at some point in their life, with more than eight in 10 people claiming to have experienced either upper, mid, or lower back pain. While there are a number of reasons for back pain, strains and sprains are two of the most common.

Here’s a look at what causes these back injuries and where to go if you suffer from one.

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What’s the difference between back strains and sprains?

You’ve likely heard the terms back strain and back sprain, but do you know the difference? If you’ve sustained an injury to a muscle or tendon, it’s considered a back strain, while a back sprain occurs when the ligament is stretched or torn.

What is a strain?

A strain occurs any time a muscle or tendon is injured. Tendons are responsible for keeping your muscle connected to your bone and appear as tough, fibrous bands. Whenever you’ve strained your back, it means the tendons and muscles that support the spine are twisted, pulled or torn.

What is a sprain?

A sprain happens when the ligament is stretched or torn. A ligament is the band of tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint to keep the joint from moving excessively.

What causes a back strain or sprain?

Unfortunately, back problems are one of the most common medical concerns of patients. So how do they occur and can you prevent them?

A strain can occur from a simple instance of heavy lifting or overstressing the back muscles. To avoid a strain, it’s important to learn proper lifting techniques, especially if you’ll be routinely lifting.

It’s more common for a sprain to occur if you’ve experienced a fall or unexpected movement or jarring of the body. These types of movements can cause the ligaments to stretch beyond what they’re typically capable of, resulting in injury.

You may also be at a higher risk of a back strain or sprain if you are overweight, have weak back or abdominal muscles, or curve your lower back excessively. Athletes, especially those who play sports like football or regularly lift heavy weights, are also at an increased risk.

Should you go to urgent care for back pain?

If you’re experiencing back pain of any kind, it’s a good idea to see a provider who can provide you with a proper diagnosis. Typically, a back strain or sprain can be diagnosed by a simple physical exam.

However, in more severe cases, an x-ray may be needed to ensure there are fractured or broken bones and that herniated discs are not causing the pain. MRIs and CT scans are also common tests performed to diagnose severe back pain.

Does urgent care treat muscle strains?

Since back injuries are so common, urgent care facilities are a great option for seeking treatment. It’s normal for back injuries to occur on the weekends or after business hours when a provider’s office may be closed.

You will be able to receive immediate treatment by visiting an urgent care location. At CareNow®, our offices are open after hours and on the weekends, so we’re ready to serve you when you need it most.

How to treat back muscle strain

Are you curious about how to treat a back muscle strain? In most cases, a muscle strain or sprain will heal on its own; however, you should consult with your provider to find the right treatment plan for you.

The most important thing to do immediately is to alleviate pain and reduce the spasm. Usually, this requires you to rest your muscle and minimize movement and physical activity. Ice packs and compression are also great options to relieve symptoms, especially within the first 48 hours.

If symptoms are severe enough, medication may be prescribed to help with the pain. If the strain or sprain isn’t severe, over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen work well.

You should be able to return to normal activity within 48 hours of your injury. In fact, moving your body (in a way that is easily tolerated) can actually help you recover.

How to prevent back strains and sprains

Although it’s not always possible to prevent a back strain or sprain (accidents happen!), there are things you can do to minimize your risk. For instance, eating a healthy diet that provides your bones and muscle with the nutrients they need is important.

Keeping yourself at a healthy weight is another good way to prevent back injury as excess weight adds stress to the structures of your lower back.

Staying active and exercising regularly is important to keep your joints flexible and your muscles in good shape as well. Remember: If you plan to lift weights, always ensure you’re using good techniques.

What will urgent care do for back pain?

If you experience a back strain or sprain, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention so you can receive a proper diagnosis. At urgent care, you will receive a physical examination to determine the type of injury you’ve sustained. 

The provider will likely ask you about your recent activity to try and pinpoint exactly how the injury happened. Then, they will recommend a treatment plan specifically for you. Your plan will most likely include rest, medication and rehabilitation.

Often, a follow-up appointment is encouraged so the provider can observe your progress and make sure you’re healing the way you should. At the follow-up appointment, your provider might show you some stretches and exercises that can help with the healing process.

Finding the right urgent care for you is an important step in the treatment process. At CareNow®, we’re dedicated to giving you quality medical care that’s also convenient.

We have more than 175 locations throughout the country, each staffed with qualified providers and nurses who are trained in family practice, emergency medicine and internal medicine.

Plus, we make it easy to wait from anywhere thanks to our convenient Web Check-In® feature. Find a CareNow® location near you by visiting our website now.

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