Recovery Tips: What to Do If You Throw Your Back Out

a woman suffering from back pain


Our backs are the central support structure for everything we do. In order to move, lift, or otherwise support ourselves, we need our back to be in good condition. Unfortunately, back pain is a common ailment experienced by roughly 80% of all adults at some point in their lives. So how are you supposed to know what to do for a strained back muscle?

Today we’re taking a look at what to do when you throw your back out and how to treat back muscle strain to get you back to full health as quickly as possible.

What Does It Mean to Throw Your Back Out?

What does it mean to throw out your back? Before we hop into learning what to do when you throw your back out, let’s discuss what the phrase actually means. Throwing your back out is a phrase used to describe what happens when you’ve strained the muscles in your back.

While you’ve not literally thrown your back anywhere, it can be indicative of pulled muscles, a herniated disc, or other back injuries.

As we age, the cumulative wear and tear on our backs can leave us more susceptible to injury. This can be especially true for those with active lifestyles that may need help recovering from sports injuries.

What Happens If You Throw Your Back Out?

Part of learning what to do when you throw your back out and how to treat back muscle strain is knowing what can cause the problem. Throwing your back out typically comes from pulling a muscle (often in the lumbar region of your lower back) from actions such as:

  • Twisting your back
  • Lifting heavy objects incorrectly
  • Overextending your stretches
  • Poor posture
  • Impact of physical activity on your body (like running or playing sports)

Having a post workout recovery routine, finding activities to improve posture, and ensuring you lift items correctly at all times are some of the easiest ways to avoid throwing your back out. If you do strain your back, however, it’s important to learn what you can do to enhance how the body heals itself.

What to Do When You Throw Your Back Out: Immediate Steps

If you’ve ever thrown your back out, you know how important knowing how to treat back muscle strain quickly can be. The pain you experience is typically immediate and can be debilitating. Left unchecked, these injuries run the risk of causing lasting damage. While there are tips and techniques you can learn for what to do for a strained back muscle, it’s important to consult a doctor for back injuries to ensure proper care and healing.

To help you treat back strain at home, check out these tips for what to do if you throw your back out:

  • Get enough rest
  • Use cold and heat therapy
  • Alleviate pressure on the back
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Stay active while respecting your limitations

When learning what to do when you throw your back out, it's important to ease into different types of treatment and listen to your body. Let's explore each of these tips in more detail.

Back Muscle Strain Treatment Tip #1: Get Rest

The first thing we’ll explore as we discover what to do when you throw your back out is to get enough rest. Rest is what helps your body heal more efficiently. When you’ve pulled a muscle in your back, it needs time to heal. Additionally, lying still and resting can help prevent further damage or movement which may cause more pain.

Not all rest is created equally, however. You need to have proper lumbar support to help heal a herniated disc or pulled muscle more quickly. If you’re relaxing in a bed, lying flat on your back is ideal. If you’re resting up in a living room, choosing the right kind of chair can help the healing process. Zero gravity chairs, for example, not only reduce pressure on the lower back and pelvic region, but may help alleviate back pain more quickly by improving blood circulation. In fact, 20 minutes a day in the zero gravity position may result in back repair equivalent to 8-10 hours of sleep.

Back Muscle Strain Treatment Tip #2: Cold and Heat Therapy

Part of knowing what to do when you throw your back out is also knowing the order of treatments you may need. Both cold and heat therapy may help with how to treat back muscle strain.

Start with cold therapy for the first 24-48 hours after throwing your back out. Wrapping an ice pack or cold compress in a thin towel and applying it to the affected area in 20-minute intervals several times a day helps reduce inflammation and provides pain relief. Remember never to place ice directly on your skin to avoid tissue damage.

After you’ve applied cold therapy treatments, you can follow up the next few days with heat therapy. Heat therapy may help with back pain relief, increase blood flow, and help heal the damaged tissue more quickly.

There are two types of heat therapy: moist and dry. Moist heat therapy applications include warm baths or steam saunas and may not be ideal for the lack of movement capability when you’ve thrown your back out. Dry heat therapy is the application of a dry heat source to the affected area. This could be a heating pad or warm towel, but for back muscle strain you may prefer more coverage. In this instance, using a zero gravity chair with heat therapy features may enhance your experience and get you back to being pain free more quickly.

Back Muscle Strain Treatment Tip #3: Alleviate Lower Back Pressure

Part of what to do for a strained back muscle includes alleviating lower back pressure. Any extra pressure on the lower back is likely to hinder the healing process and may even cause more damage. If you’re lying down, be sure to lie flat on your back and avoid any twisting movements. A firm mattress is most helpful for lying in bed with a strained back muscle.

For resting while seated, choosing the right place to sit can make a huge difference. While a couch may be an option to lie down upon, any twisting to watch television or converse with others could be problematic. Instead, you may want to try sitting in a chair. As for the differences between a zero gravity chair or recliner, you’ll find that traditional recliners may actually cause your back pain to worsen. This is because the reclining function on a traditional recliner centers the pressure on the lower back.

Conversely, the zero gravity position elevates the legs above the heart level, reducing pressure on the back as it distributes weight along the body. Additional bonus features of zero gravity luxury recliners such as heat therapy and massage make it a multipurpose tool to help with how to treat back muscle strain.

Back Muscle Strain Treatment Tip #4: Stay Active

Last up in our exploration of what to do when you throw your back out is to stay active. While this may sound counterintuitive, keeping active with respect to your physical limitations can actually be a great way to keep muscles loose and enhance the healing process. If you remain sedentary for too long, the muscles may become stiff or tense, taking longer to recover.

After a few days of rest, starting back to an active routine is ideal. Be sure to stretch thoroughly and stay within your current limitations, however, to ensure you don’t regress or cause new damage to the back muscles. You should also avoid heavy lifting and twisting exercises until you're fully healed. Keep the body moving within its comfort zone.

Throwing Out Your Back Recovery Time

Even if you know what to do if you end up throwing out your back, recovery time may not always be straight forward. Recovering from a back injury can be a gradual process, and the timeline for healing varies depending on the extent of the strain or injury. For milder cases, where the muscles are strained but not severely damaged, with proper care and treatment, you can expect to experience relief within a few days to a couple of weeks. These injuries often respond well to rest, cold and heat therapy, and gentle stretching.

In more severe cases, like herniated discs or more extensive muscle damage, the recovery timeline may extend to several weeks or even a few months for significant improvement. These injuries often require a more comprehensive approach, including specific therapies, exercise regimens, and sometimes medical interventions.

We hope this guide has given you a clearer understanding of what to do if you throw your back out. Being such a common health ailment, knowing what to do for a strained back muscle can make the difference between being down for a couple days versus weeks. Knowing how to treat back muscle strain may also be crucial to preventing long term damage.

As always, consult a medical professional before beginning any home treatment when you throw your back out to ensure it’s safe to do so and reduce the risk of further harm.

Zero gravity chairs may help with more than back muscle strain. To learn more about the potential health benefits of zero gravity chairs, check out these resources: