Your back is made of bones, muscles and other tissues extending from your neck to your pelvis. Back injuries can result from sports injuries, work around the house or in the garden, or a sudden jolt, such as a car accident. The lower back is the most common site of back injuries and back pain. Common back injuries include:

  • Sprains and strains
  • Herniated discs
  • Fractured vertebrae, including compression fractures due to osteoporosis

These injuries can cause pain and limit your movement. Treatments vary but might include medicines, icing, rest, physical therapy or surgery (in the case of a severely herniated disc). You might be able to prevent some back injuries by maintaining a healthy weight, lifting objects with your legs and using lower-back support when you sit.

Sprained spine

A sprain is a stretched or torn ligament. Ligaments are tissues that connect bones at a joint. Falling, twisting or being hit can all cause a sprain. A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon. Tendons are tissues that connect muscle to bone. Twisting or pulling these tissues can cause a strain. Strains can happen suddenly or develop over time. Back and hamstring muscle strains are common. Many people get strains playing sports. Symptoms include pain, muscle spasms, swelling and trouble moving the muscle.

At first, treatment of both sprains and strains usually involves resting the injured area, icing it, wearing a support or device that compresses the area and medications. Later, treatment might include exercise and physical therapy.

Fractures – compression fracture or fractured vertebrae

Osteoporosis, a condition in which bones thin and weaken, can cause compression fractures in the spine. The primary symptom is pain at the site of the break. Most of these fractures due to weakened bones occur at the waistline or just above or below that area. Treatment usually includes rest, pain relief medication and sometimes a brace or surgery to stabilize your spine. You can take bone-strengthening medication to prevent additional fractures.

Sometimes a blow that fractures or dislocates bones in the spine (vertebrae) can also injure your spinal cord. Most injuries don't cut through your spinal cord. Instead, they cause damage when pieces of vertebrae tear into cord tissue or press down on the nerves that carry signals for movement.

With a complete spinal cord injury, the cord can't send signals below the level of the injury. As a result, you are paralyzed below the injury. With an incomplete injury, you have some movement and sensation below the injury.

A spinal cord injury is a medical emergency. Immediate treatment can reduce long-term effects. Treatments may include medicines, braces or traction to stabilize the spine, and surgery. Later, treatment usually includes medicines and rehabilitation therapy. Mobility aids and assistive devices may help you to get around and do some daily tasks.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Learn more about brain and spine neurological conditions at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.


You might be able to prevent some back injuries by maintaining a healthy weight, lifting objects with your legs and using lower-back support when you sit.

You can also exercise to keep your back healthy and strong, performing exercises that increase core stability.

Better posture may prevent back pain and injury, too; think about your posture, whether you’re sitting or standing.

Different sleeping positions may be better for protecting your back.

Wear low-heeled shoes.

Eat a healthy diet, manage your stress load and quit smoking if you’re currently a smoker.

Children and teenagers who use school bags and backpacks should ensure that they’re carrying them correctly, in a way that doesn’t cause unnecessary imbalances or strain.

Some exercises may increase the likelihood of low back pain. AVOID:

  • Straight-leg sit-ups
  • Bent-leg sit-ups during acute back pain
  • Leg lifts
  • Lifting heavy weights above the waist (military press or biceps curls while standing)
  • Stretching done while sitting with legs in a “V” position
  • Standing toe touches

Why choose Ohio State for treatment of spine sprains, strains, fractures and injuries?

Diagnosing spine sprains, strains, fractures and injuries

Our spine specialists work closely with emergency department staff, who are often the first to evaluate people following an accident with an injury to the spine. If you are referred to Ohio State Spine Care, a physician will perform a thorough history as well as physical and neurological exams to check for neurological and muscular problems around the spine.

Our team of neurologists, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists, and neurosurgeons consult with one another to make an accurate diagnosis for you.

Back injury treatment

Sprained spine

One of Ohio State’s strengths is our physical therapy program, with therapists who specialize in spine injuries and conditions. Following a thorough examination of posture, mobility, strength and flexibility, our physical therapists customize a plan for you. We take into account any impairments or functional limitations you have. Typically, you will work one-on-one with a therapist on pain-relieving movement strategies and on improvements in strength and flexibility.

Additional nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Education on back care and recommendations on how to make your work and home environment more ergonomic
  • Real-time ultrasound imaging (RUSI) of movement in the spine area to re-train the deep stabilizing musculature of your spine (a highly researched, evidence-based intervention)
  • Anti-inflammatory medications and rest
  • Injections into the epidural space (fluid-filled sac around your spinal cord) for pain relief
  • Weight loss counseling, emphasizing healthier eating and exercise to ease pressure on the spine
  • Pilates, yoga and aquatic therapy to strengthen back muscles
  • Spine orthobiologics, also known as stem cell therapy, activates the body’s natural healing process through injections of the body’s own healthy cells into the injured area to stimulate tissue regeneration and natural healing
  • Acupuncture (provided at Ohio State Spine Care) or dry needling for pain control through Ohio State’s Center for Integrative Medicine

Fractures – compression fracture or fractured vertebrae

Nonsurgical treatment

If a fracture is stable (unlikely to shift or worsen), we can immobilize it with a collar for the neck or a brace for the back. Follow-up imaging will document healing.

We often prescribe bone-strengthening medications to prevent additional fractures.

If a fracture is unstable and likely to cause further damage, our surgeon will—following stabilization of the spine above and below the injury—fuse the fractured spine bone to the bones above and below it.

Advanced treatment

If you have a compression fracture from osteoporosis, our physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians manage the fracture conservatively with rest and pain medication. For severe pain, we’re skilled in kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty, procedures for injecting cement into the cracked bone for greater stability and faster healing.

If pain persists following surgery, physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians can perform radiofrequency ablation (also called radiofrequency neurotomy), a procedure using intense heat produced by radio waves to disable nerves that are causing pain.

If you have a fracture of a facet joint that joins two vertebrae—often from sports activities—rest is the first line of treatment, but radiofrequency ablation can be performed if pain persists.



Ohio State conducts innovative research in the laboratory, as well as through clinical trials. 

Enroll in a clinical trial

An area of focus includes:

Lumbar burst fractures [Radiographic and Clinical Outcomes Following Non-operative versus Operative Treatment of AO Type A3 Fractures: A Prospective, Randomized Clinical Trial with an Observational Component]:  We are conducting a comparative study of surgery versus bracing for fractures that occur with sudden compression in the lower back (lumbar spine) to test which approach produces optimal results.

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Additional Information

Please obtain a physician referral before scheduling with our Spine Center and request previous imaging studies (e.g., MRI, CT, X-ray) on a CD from the place where your tests were performed. Please bring to your appointment these and other test results related to your back (e.g., EMGs, bone density reports, ultrasound reports) from your doctor(s).

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