What Does It Mean to "Throw Out Your Back"?

You may have heard of a friend at work or a family member saying that "they threw their back out" or "I threw out my back". What does it really mean to "throw out your back"? Though you may not understand what this means, in terms of the anatomy involved and the cause of the injury, you know that this is probably something serious. If you have a friend that has said this has happened to him, it usually means that you won't be seeing him at work for awhile, or at least not at the Sunday picnic that weak.

You do understand enough to know that this type of injury, or whatever it is, is painful enough and debilitating to keep that person on the bed or on the couch for awhile. But what is really happening to their backs when you hear these phrases thrown around?

This is an injury that usually comes on suddenly. This is not a type of injury that will come on gradually or that you will wake up with some stiffness from in the morning. This injury comes on suddenly and occurs as a sudden sharp pain in the back. This sudden sharp pain may come from a fall or awkward lifting even where you have tried to carry more weight than your body was equipped for. Or something as usually harmless as a sneeze will suddenly make your back seize up suddenly.

This expression is a laymen's term used by the general population, not doctors, to describe a type of movement that leads to the sudden onset of acute pain in the back. Usually this sudden onset of sharp and immobility is caused by a back spasm. A back spasm involves a muscle spasm in the back that lay last for seconds to days, and cause the pain and disability from it to continue until the muscle finally loosens on its. What causes this muscle spasm? A muscle spasm is brought on by an injury to the muscle itself or the structures that are connected to this muscle - including possibly the nerves, ligaments, and myofascia.

Since the spine itself gives rise to the nerves that supply the muscles, certain spinal injuries may lead to the triggering of the muscle spasms that cause you to "throw your back out." These spinal injuries may include disc injuries and facet joint arthritis. Rare causes of back spasms and pain include spinal infections and tumors.

Here are some treatments for the people who say "I threw out my back".

Rest: Often the best treatment for these acute pain conditions aren't fancy machines that stretch you out and hold you upside down. In most cases, extra rest until the muscles get better is the best course of action. When you're at home, find a place on the floor where you can lie down and bring your body into the neutral position. Lie down with your legs straight and your hands by your side. Try to think calming thoughts and give your body a chance to relax. When doing this, you want to be on a hard surface rather than a cushy couch or bed.

Take anti-inflammatories: Over the counter anti-inflammatories such as naproxen (Aleve) or Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) should provide you with some pain relief until the storm passes.

Ice It: Apply ice to the sore area for a period of 24-48 hours. The icing may decrease swelling and inflammation. Often spasm to the muscle will endure until the swelling and inflammation goes down.

Massage Therapy: A 2011 study in Annals of internal Medicine said that a massage can help to provide relief for acute pain.

Strengthen and Stretch: Often you "threw out your back" because it was not strong and flexible enough to handle the work you were requiring it to do. Once your pain has subsided, you should get to work making your back stronger and more flexible to minimize the chances that this type of injury will occur again.