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Acute Back Injury: Causes, Signs and Symptoms, and Treatment Options

written by: Pepperminty • edited by: dianahardin • updated: 5/27/2011

More than 90 percent of Americans experience an acute back injury some point in their lives, reports the American Family Physician. Read on to learn about what causes this painful condition and the treatment options that are available.

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    Acute Back Injuries

    Acute back injuries involve back pain that only lasts for a short period of time. Generally, the pain is severe and comes on suddenly. It can last from a few days to a few weeks; however, it does not typically cause discomfort beyond six weeks. Although swelling or bruising may be obvious shortly after the injury, most people do not know specifically what has caused their back pain. Their pain may start at a later time, which makes diagnosing the injury more difficult.

    The most obvious symptom of an acute back injury is pain in the muscles surrounding the spine. The pain may range from a deep muscle ache to a stabbing or shooting discomfort. Pain usually worsens with movement or any type of physical activity. The flexibility and range of motion will probably be reduced. It may be impossible to stand up straight without experiencing intense pain.

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    Herniated Discs

    There are soft discs between each vertebrae of the spine to allow movement. These discs sometimes slip out of place and rest on a surrounding nerve. The disc can then tear or rupture, causing the jelly-substance inside to leak out. This condition is known as a herniated disc. In addition to extreme lower back pain, patients with herniated discs may also experience pain in one or both legs or tingling and numbness in the feet. The pain tends to decrease when resting and increase when moving. Sneezing, coughing or sitting may worsen the pain. A physician may prescribe medication to help with the pain. Exercise is the standard treatment for herniated discs. Being active will help speed recovery. A physician may also prescribe exercises that stretch the spine. Herniated discs usually heal in about four weeks.

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    Strains and Sprains

    Back strains, also called pulled muscles, occur when the muscles are overstretched, pulled, twisted or torn. Strains can affect muscles or tendons. On the other hand, back sprains involve stretching or tearing of a ligament, the bands of tissue that connect bones to joints. Both back strains and sprains have similar symptoms: increased pain with movement, muscle spasms or cramping, and a decreased range of motion. Several factors can increase the risk for developing this type of acute back injury, including playing sports, being overweight, having weak abdominal muscles or having tight hamstring muscles. Back sprains are usually caused by an impact to the body, a fall or sharp twisting movement. Strains are typically the result of overuse. Recovery time for a back strain or sprain is usually two weeks. Although medication is usually not needed, pain killers may be taken.

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    Spinal Fractures or Dislocation

    More than 150,000 Americans suffer from spinal fractures or a dislocation. These may be caused by a fall, a car accident, a gun shot wound, contact sports and other forms of severe impact. This type of injury causes pain, difficulty walking or the inability to move the arms or legs. Some spinal fractures and dislocations are treated with pain medications and stabilization. Back braces help stabilize the back, encourage healing and prevent further injury. More severe cases may require surgery. In some cases, surgury may be required to fuse the back vertebrae using a bone grafter.

    If you suspect you may be suffering from a spinal fracture or dislocation, seek medical attention immediately. Failing to get proper treatment can led to permanent paralysis.

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    References

    WebMD: Back Problems and Injuries, http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/tc/back-problems-and-injuries-topic-overview

    National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Low Back Pain Fact Sheet, http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/backpain/detail_backpain.htm

    American Family Physican: Diagnosis and Mangment of Acute Low Back Pain, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20000315/1779.html

    Health Care Information: Back Injury, http://www.health-care-information.org/injuries/back-strain.htm

    Cayuga Medical Center at Ithaca: Treating Acute Back Pain, http://www.cayugamed.org/content.cfm?page=library&articleID=29&topicID=35