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Dr. Mark Hosko, MD, May 19 2022

Types of Back Injuries

Learn the Different Types of Back Injuries & Their Causes and Effects


Back pain affects hundreds of thousands of people every day and can lead to pain, disability, and many other complications. Thankfully, you have options to reduce back pain with a variety of treatment options available. First, though, you need to know the common issues and their accompanying symptoms. From there, you can make an educated decision to help you cope with your back problems and get on the road to recovery. 

What are common types of back injuries?

Unfortunately, back injuries are common and come in a variety of forms. The most common presentation of back issues include sprains, strains, herniated or bulging discs, and fractured vertebra. Other types of injuries include degenerative injuries, structural problems, movement and posture, and some severe conditions that are rare. 

Sprains and strains (also called soft tissue injuries) often present with the same symptoms. Some people will feel or hear a pop at the time of injury, experience muscle spasms, cramps, difficulty bending, walking, or standing up straight. Needless to say, sprains and strains include pain, but the pain can increase with certain movements. They are, however, easily treated with rest and monitoring but still take a couple of days to return to activities. 

Herniated or bulging discs are fairly common and occur when the rubbery cushions (discs) between the vertebrae are not working properly. When the rubbery parts push through a tear in the exterior of the disc, this is when you get a herniation. Nerves nearby can become irritated and painful, presenting in arm or leg pain, numbness or tingling, and muscle weakness. Some people do not experience any symptoms. 

Fractured vertebrae are also referred to as compression fractures which are gaps or cracks in the vertebra. As the spine ages and weakens, it can lead to spine trauma, as can a fall or accident. Symptoms include acute or constant back pain, a loss in height, and hunched posture. However, it is treatable with noninvasive therapy and even surgical options. 

Degenerative injures in the spine can cause a loss of normal function and structure over time. These can include spinal stenosis, disc disease, and arthritis. Symptoms can include back pain, stiffness, and loss of movement. In addition, when spinal nerves are involved, you may experience weakness, numbness, and tingling. 

Among the structural problems are arthritis and sciatica, abnormal curvature of the spine, and osteoporosis. Even kidney problems or infections can cause back pain. Poor posture can also lead to back problems with mild pain. Lastly, a few severe conditions can cause pain problems like spine cancer, infection of the spine, sleep disorders, and shingles. 

What are the types of back sprains?

Types of sprains depend on the type of muscles supporting the spine. The main muscles are the extensors, flexors, and obliques. Lumbar or lower back muscle strains are the most common causes of lower back pain. As the lower back supports the weight of the entire upper body and helps with moving, twisting, and bending. Symptoms can include low back pain radiating to the behind but not to the legs, stiffness, reduced range of motion, inability to hold normal posture, muscle spasms with rest or activity, and persistent pain for up to two weeks. 

Additionally, lower back strains and sprains can occur as a muscle strain or a lumbar sprain. Muscle strains happen when the fibers in the muscle start to tear or overstretch. This can happen when you pull a muscle out of place. Lumbar sprains happen when the ligaments are torn or overstretched. The ligaments help to connect other parts to the bone. 

What are the symptoms of back injuries?

Back injuries can include a wide range of symptoms depending on the cause and location of the injury. First and foremost, you can expect to feel pain in the upper or lower back. Second, you may experience a shooting, burning, or even a stabbing sensation. Third, back injuries can cause limited movement, reducing the ability to stand straight, bend, twist, lift, or walk. 

Next, the problems may include muscle spasms, bruising, swelling, or even pain radiating down one or both of your legs. The pain may not lessen with activity or rest and can lead to a tingling feeling or even numbness in the thighs, groin, buttock, or genital areas. 

What is considered a serious back injury?

Severe back injuries involve fractures (breaking a bone), wounds, extensive bruising, and problems involving the spinal cord or internal organs. Serious issues can lead to serious complications; if you experience any, seek medical attention right away. Some complications you can experience with serious back injuries include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, problems going to the bathroom, numbness in the extremities, fever along with new back pain, paralysis, and blood in the urine. 

How do you tell if lower back pain is muscle or disc?

Disc problems do not always present with symptoms but can cause difficulty in walking, twisting, tingling or loss of sensation, pain when you sneeze or cough, or neck pain. With a pulled muscle, you may experience local swelling, spasms, cramping, tenderness to the touch, tightness, pain, and relief in resting positions. 

The best thing to do when you are unsure where the problem stems from is to see your doctor. They can accurately diagnose the problem and prevent you from causing further damage to the area. Additionally, they can prescribe pain medications, exercises, and physical therapy. Doctors can also order tests such as x-rays, MRI scans, and diagnostic injections to locate and confirm the cause of the problem for a better diagnosis and treatment plan. 

What are common treatments for back injuries?

Depending on the type of injury will dictate the type of treatment. For the most part, you can expect your doctor to start with RICE or rest, ice, compression, and elevate. Over-the-counter medications are often used to help cope with pain. Both cold and heat therapy can help to reduce swelling and pain or to relax muscles while promoting circulation. 

Many therapies can assist with the recovery from back injuries too. For example, physical therapy and massage therapy can help to relax muscles and strengthen them to their former ability. Staying active can help to keep your muscles in shape too and prevent injuries in the future. 

Additionally, the best treatment is to not overdo yourself while recovering. Take your time and move slowly to prevent further injuries. Follow the plan prescribed by your doctor and make adjustments as necessary to promote a full recovery. More serious injuries may require surgery, but only your doctor can determine this form of treatment. 

Do back injuries heal themselves?

The vast majority of back pain problems will heal themselves in about one to four weeks. With proper treatment, muscle sprains, strains, and other minor injuries will make a full recovery. Furthermore, you can continue your normal activities during this time but make sure to listen to your body in the process. 

However, it’s still best to receive treatment and confirmation from your doctor to rule out more complicated problems. The main problem is untreated complications that can lead to frequent injury in the future. Ignoring the problem will not cause back pain to go away and can further complicate your life with pain and discomfort affecting your job, sleep, personal life, and every other aspect of your life. 

What types of back injuries require surgery?

Depending on the problem, your back issues may require surgery. Some of the conditions that can require surgery include herniated disks, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, vertebral fractures, and degenerative disk disease. Overgrown bones can cause spurs, and those may require surgery as well. 

The type of injury will affect which surgery will be performed. Usually, doctors prefer to leave surgery as a last resort option whenever possible. Your general doctor may send you to a back specialist like a spine surgeon for surgery. Doctors will also be able to take other medical problems into consideration before making a choice to go forward with surgery. 

Why choose Portland Urgent Care for back injuries?

Portland Urgent Care offers several services to help cope with and treat back injuries. With a dedicated back pain relief team, we can help to treat soft tissue and nerve injuries. We also offer same-day and walk-in appointments. Additionally, we work with many insurance companies and PIP (for back pain due to an auto accident) to serve more customers quickly. 

By combining the use of integrated medical resources, including both western and eastern medical healthcare, we can better serve you the way your body needs. Our team can provide relief by using chiropractic services, physiotherapy, acupuncture, and massages therapy. We will develop a customized treatment for each patient to meet their individual needs. 

Portland Urgent Care is here for you with the tools you need to fix back problems and reduce discomfort. Get more than just reduced pain, but a plan to help make your life better with the proper care from a stellar team. Call and schedule an appointment today. 


Although back pain is a common ailment, you do not need to live in pain. Portland Urgent care is ready to help you diagnose and treat your back condition so you can get back to life. With a dedicated treatment plan and a variety of different treatment options, we can help you feel better quickly and back to feeling like yourself again. Call today and schedule an appointment or simply walk in and let us help you resolve back pain issues today. 

For more information on injuries, see our related blogs:

Common Causes & Effects of Neck Injuries

Neck Injury Treatment

How Do You Know If Your Back Injury Is Serious?

Types of Ankle Injuries

Common Types & Causes of Knee Injuries

How To Treat & Recover From Knee Injuries

Wrist Ligament Injuries

Wrist Injuries Causes & Treatment

Difference Between Sprains vs Strains

What Is A Laceration Wound?

Written by

Dr. Mark Hosko, MD

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