The lowdown. Muscle strains are actually small tears in, or the stretching out of, muscle fibers. They’re also the top reason for back pain.
What it feels like. A stiffness or soreness that worsens with activity (including small movements, like bending over to pick something up).
The cause. Any repetitive or jolting movementor even just sitting. "Women who sit at work hunched over for hours put stress on their backs," says Jeffrey Goldstein, MD, director of the spine service at the New York University Langone Medical Center. "If they also don’t exercise regularly, they lose strength in their back and their corethe muscles which help support their spine. So when they do ramp up their activity, they may pull one or several back muscles." Another surprising trigger: "Tight hamstrings can exacerbate a strain by putting stress on the low back," explains Renee Garrison, a physical therapist at the Medical University of South Carolina.
- Every waking hour for the first 24 hours, then every few hours for the next 24: Ice the strain for 15 minutes to reduce swelling. (Heat will only increase inflammation.)
- Every two hours (at least): "Stretch and move gently," says Jennifer Solomon, MD, a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "Lying down may cause the muscle
- Every four to six hours: Try an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like ibuprofentake according to package directions.
- After 48 hours: If pain doesn’t improve, call your primary care physician to rule out a more serious condition.