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Muscles Strain of Lumbar and Cervical Muscles Causes Treatments All you need to know

December 28, 2021

Muscle strain involving the cervical and lumbar region causes spinal pain. The cervical area denotes the neck, while the lumbar area indicates the lower back.

The thoracic area lies midway between the two but seldom causes pain because of the rigidity of the bony structure and muscle elements.

Muscles Strain of Lumbar and Cervical Muscles Causes Treatments

The lumbar and cervical spine areas are prone to injury and strain because these areas are involved in the weight-bearing function. The muscles are also involved in moving, twisting, and bending the torso.

Lumbar muscle strain results from an abnormal stretch of the muscle fibers. The condition can result from a sudden injury or gradual overuse.

The strain of the lumbar spine damages the soft tissues, which become inflamed. This inflammation causes pain and often leads to muscle spasms.

A cervical muscle strain may happen independent of neck pain or accompanied by lumbar pain as spinal pain. Whiplash injuries to the neck are the most prevalent causes of cervical neck pain.

Anatomy of the cervical and lumbar regions

The cervical spine is the highest portion of the vertebral column. It lies between the cranium, the skull bone, and the thoracic vertebrae.

The cervical region consists of seven individual vertebrae. Out of the seven, two are unique;

  • The first cervical vertebrae (C1); the atlas.
  • The second cervical vertebrae (C2); the axis.

Several muscles, ligaments, intervertebral discs, and nerves make part-n-parcel of the cervical region essential in supporting and cushioning loads to the head/neck. The cervical region also allows for rotation in addition to protecting the spinal cord extending from the brain.

The lower back comprises the lumbar spine area. It also includes vertebral bones, intervertebral discs, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and blood vessels. The spinal cord ends at the top of the lumbar spine at the L1 vertebra. All that descends is the remaining nerve roots called the cauda equine.

The lumbar spine is pretty sturdy and resilient. Yet, it is subjected to extreme stress and loads that give rise to muscular strains or sprains and pain.

The lumbar spine connects with the thoracic spine above the thoracolumbar junction. It connects with the sacral spine below at the lumbosacral joint.

A total of three muscle types support the spine:

  • Extensors comprising the back and gluteal muscles
  • Flexors that make up the abdominal muscles and iliopsoas muscles
  • Oblique or rotators which are the side muscles

Causes of lumbar and cervical muscle strain

A muscle strain affecting the cervical and lumbar areas makes an abnormal pull on the muscle fibers.

Such an abnormally pulled, overstretched, or torn muscle may result from;

  • Heavy lifting
  • Incorrect lifting and posture
  • Repetitive use (constant bending)

Muscle strains vary in severity from mild to severe pain. They may also cause lower back stiffness.

Besides incorrect posture or movement techniques, the spinal muscles undergo deconditioning due to lack of physical activity as in sedentary lifestyles.

Symptoms of cervical and lumbar muscle strain

Some of the symptoms of spinal pain include;

Spinal pain in the lower back, cervical and thoracic regions. It does not radiate into the arms, around the chest, or down into the legs. It does not require surgery.

Rarely the pain may radiate from the spine into the extremities or chest wall, indicating pinching of the spinal nerves. This requires surgery if the symptoms aggravate the following days to weeks after injury.

Other symptoms of spinal pain include:

  • Stiffness and pain in the low back area
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Postural disturbances due to stiffness and pain
  • Muscle spasms that may happen at rest or with activity
  • Pain lasting for 10-14 days or more
  • Significant loss of motor function

Treatment of cervical and lumbar muscle strain

The treatment includes;

  1. Immediately after the injury till the first few days
  1. RICER
    1. Medication

Muscle relaxants and opioid narcotics may be used in severe cases that do not respond to regular NSAIDs. Corticosteroid injections are also reserved as a last resort.

  • TENS

TENS certainly helps in relieving neck and lower back pain. The electrodes are placed on the lower back just above the buttocks. Two or four electrodes may be aligned on either side of the backbone.

  • After few weeks
  • Massage

A lower back massage warms up muscles by increasing blood and lymphatic circulation. In addition, it results in nutrient refurbish in the area and removal of toxic wastes.

Some techniques used for lower back pain include;

  • Acupressure
  • Myofascial release
  • Kneading
  • Wringing
  • Cupping

Acupressure uses the fingers and thumbs to apply pressure on specific points in the soft tissue surrounding the spinal column. Pressure breaks down the muscular knots and helps relax the muscle, and alleviates back stiffness.

Kneading stretches the connective tissue, thereby easing stiff muscles and muscular spasms.

The myofascial technique uses flat hands, palms, and fingers. The aim is to apply pressure to the fascia in the lower back. It loosens the tight muscles and releases tension.

Wringing is an effective massage technique to alleviate pain. Wringing involves picking the muscle tissue from either side of the back and pulled towards the center. The pressure is adjusted from light to firm. Local temperature is increased, which helps stretch, loosen and relieve muscle tightness.

Cupping massage is done with the help of a plastic or glass cup. The technique lifts the muscle from its place. Cupping helps loosen fascia and release tension in muscles by causing vasodilation and improving blood circulation. As a result, the elasticity of the tissues is improved, which helps prevent strains in the long run.

  • Therapeutic ultrasound

Treating low back pain and neck pain is a multifaceted approach where therapeutic ultrasound also plays its role. It is a non-invasive therapy with no side effects and is proven beneficial in managing common musculoskeletal disorders, including spinal pain.

  • Active rehabilitation

The suggested rest for the spinal back should be as minimal as possible. It is because extended periods of inactivity are also a contributing factor to the development of the condition. In addition, muscles lose their strength and may become stiffer, for which active rehabilitation exercises help.

Stretching exercises for spinal pain should be performed gently. Doing these exercises once or twice per day suffice. In case of pain getting worse, take a day off in between. You should be able to breathe comfortably while performing these stretches.

Stretching exercises for spinal pain are;

Child's Pose

Child's pose is a traditional yoga position. It works gently to stretch your gluteus maximus, thigh muscles, and spinal extensors, thereby relieving pain and tension all along the spine, neck, and shoulders.

  • Position yourself on the ground and your hands and knees on the floor.
  • Sit back while resting your hips on your heels.
  • Extend your arms straight out in front at shoulder-width apart.
  • Hinge at your hips while folding in a forward motion.
  • Your position will allow your belly to rest on your thighs.
  • Take deep breaths allows any tension to release away.
  • Hold this pose for about a minute.

Knee-to-chest stretch

  • Lie on your back. Bend your knees. Place your feet flat on the floor.
  • Keep your left knee bent.
  • Draw in your right knee into your chest. Keep your hands clasped behind your thigh.
  • Do not lift your hips.
  • Take a deep breath and release.
  • Hold the leg against your chest for about a minute.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Seated spinal twist

This twist stretches the muscles of your hips, glutes, and back. In addition, it increases flexibility and range of motion in the spine while stretching the abdominal, shoulder, and neck muscles.

  • Sit on the floor.
  • Extend both legs out in front.
  • Bend your left knee.
  • Cross over your left foot and place it on the outside of your right thigh.
  • Place your right arm on the outside of your left thigh, which is crossed over to the other side.
  • Take support from your left hand by placing it behind you.
  • Now twist to the left side.
  • Hold this pose for about a minute.
  • Repeat with the right leg.


Preventing spinal pain involves:

  • Regular exercise of the muscles to strengthen the abdomen and back
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Adopt proper lifting techniques by bending at knees and lifting through the leg muscles (squatting to lift heavy weights)
  • Sit on ergonomic supportive chairs.
Abdur Rashid
Medically Reviewed By Abdur Rashid
MSC Public Health, MCSP, MHCPC
BSC (Hon) Physiotherapy
Consultant Neuro-spinal & Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist


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