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A strain refers to a muscular injury anywhere in the body in which that muscle incurs tiny tears in its fibers. The lumbar spine refers to the region of the back commonly called the lower back. A lumbar strain, therefore, is a muscle strain in the lumbar region of the spine that results in pain, swelling, bruising, numbness, tingling, or other varieties of pain. A lumbar strain should not be confused with other lumbar spine injuries and pains, such as sciatic nerve pain, herniated discs, or ligament injuries. Strains of all kinds are limited to muscles only.
A lumbar strain can occur in any of the muscles that support the spine in the lower back. Sports injuries are common in this area, as twisting motions can place excess strain on these muscles. Automobile accidents can also cause such strain, as can heavy lifting. Any time the muscles in the back incur a load or impact that is beyond the means of those muscles to handle, a lumbar strain is possible. The muscle fibers begin to separate and tear, which can lead to pain. If the muscle tissues separate entirely, the injury is known as a muscle tear and may require surgery to repair.
When a lumbar strain occurs, the sufferer is likely to feel dull pain in the lower back. Swelling is possible, as is bruising, though if the injury is iced immediately after it occurs, swelling and bruising can be kept to a minimum, which will in turn keep pain at a minimum and encourage healing. Plenty of rest is necessary to allow the lumbar strain to heal; rest may last anywhere from one day to several weeks, depending on the severity of the strain. Over the counter painkillers can also help alleviate the pain, and in more serious cases, a doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to keep the swelling down.
To prevent a lumbar strain from occurring, one should participate in a regular workout routine that strengthens the core muscles — that is, the muscles that support the spine in the lower back, abdomen, buttocks, and hips. He or she should also stretch regularly to keep muscles limber and healthy. If the sufferer routinely sits for long periods of time, it is necessary to get up out of the chair often to move around and ensure the muscles stay limber. Muscles will weaken as a result of constant inactivity, making them more prone to injury.