What is the difference between a lumbar strain and lumbar sprain?

A lumbar strain is when an injury occurs to the muscles or tendons in the low back region. Tendons are connective tissues that attach muscle to bone. When a strain takes place, the muscles and tendons that support the spine are twisted, pulled or torn.

A lumbar sprain affects ligaments. Ligaments are connective tissues that connect two or more bones to a joint to prevent exaggerated movement of a joint.

There are varying degrees of strains and sprains. Which will result in differences in pain, range of motion and recovery time.

Grade 1: Simple strain/sprain, minimal disruption of connective tissue and muscle fibers, minimal pain, some loss of range of motion.

Grade 2: Moderate strain/sprain, partial tearing of ligaments or muscle, marked pain, loss of range of motion.

Grade 3: Severe strain/sprain, may include complete laceration of connective tissue and muscle, marked pain and loss of range of motion, may need surgical evaluation.

Symptoms of Lumbar Strain/Sprain

  • Sudden low back pain
  • Muscle spasms in the low back region, resulting in more severe pain
  • Lower back feels tender to the touch
  • Pain exacerbated with movement
  • Decreased range of motion (difficulty bending, walking or standing straight)

Causes of Lumbar Strain/Sprain

Twisting or pulling

-Improper lifting

-Overuse, repetitive micro-trauma, over hours, days, months

-Weak back or abdominal muscles

-Tight hamstring muscles

-Excessive curve of the low back


Patients may use short-term NSAIDs during this phase, which is appropriate. However, it’s important to note that NSAIDs can actually slow down the healing process and should be taken in moderation. As an alternative or in addition to, we at Alta Mountain chiropractic recommend regenerative therapies that induce the body’s natural healing response such as supplements, Prolozone and Homeopathic injections, to help support and speed up the healing process.

Reducing activities for a time may be warranted, but should not be reduced long-term.

If the pain was initiated by trauma, applying ice or cold packs within the first 48 hours is acceptable for severe pain only. Subsequently applying heat for 15 minutes once per hour is helpful in the healing process as well as in the reduction of inflammation and muscle spasms.

Gentle spinal adjustments, manipulations or decompression are effective therapies to reduce pain, spinal adhesions and scar tissue as the muscle fibers lay down new tissue in order to heal the damaged tissues.

Once the pain and inflammation have been addressed the patient may then be given some simple stretches and exercises to do at home in between chiropractic appointments. These exercises are meant to increase range of motion, stretch sore and tight muscles and strengthen the area. The exercises should be performed without pain, although some degree of soreness is to be expected after exercise.

Massage therapy aids in decreasing pain, restoring range of motion and helps increase flexibility and relaxation.

For more information regarding the effectiveness of chiropractic care for low back pain, refer to this article on our blog “How effective is Chiropractic for back pain?”


  • Maintain a healthy well balanced diet to keep muscles and bones strong. Utilize supplements as necessary
  • Exercise, regular movement and stretching keep muscles in good condition and joints flexible
  • Build strong core muscles to support the spine
  • Use good body mechanics and posture when lifting, standing or sitting

If you are suffering with a low back strain/sprain reach out today at 801-523-2582 so that Dr. Nathan Eldredge can start helping you right away.

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