A pulled back muscle refers to a strain of either the muscle or tendon. The lower back is a common place to experience a minor back strain. Minor strains are not serious and will heal with proper rest and rehabilitation exercises. The time it takes for a pulled back muscle to heal will depend on how severe the strain is.
The most common causes of a pulled muscle in the back are overuse or overload. Essentially the muscle is stretched too far either too quickly or for too long a duration. This means that you are either using the muscle too much and it is fatigued and unable to sustain the activity and wears down, or you are placing too much weight or resistance causing stress on the muscle and tendon fibres. You may experience a pulled muscle from chronic use or an acute injury.
Severity of Strain
A slight tear in the tendon can be caused by overuse such as an extended or overly vigorous workout. This strain may ache but is not likely to cause a lot of swelling or sharp pain. As the tears become more pronounced in an area, you may notice swelling and bruising around the muscle with more intense pain. Severe strains are marked by a complete rupture of the muscle or the tendon bring pulled away from the muscle. This often leads to immobility with severe swelling, bleeding and bruising.
A mild strain resulting from an intense workout may take only a few days to heal as long as you don't continue an activity that stresses that region of the back. For a more serious strain where there is a moderate tear in the muscle or tendon, several weeks will be required to return to activities and up to 6 weeks to return to optimal health. Severe strains need to be evaluated by a doctor and may require surgery to reconnect the ruptured tissue. This may require several months to recuperate with physiotherapy. Recovery time depends on the treatment program applied to the injury.
Most back muscle strains will benefit from the use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine. This will help with the swelling and the pain associated with the injury. While you will want to rest the pulled muscle, you don't want to go into a period of inactivity to completely rest your back. This will create further stiffness and lead to other problems, slowing the healing process. Ice will also help reduce swelling and should be used exclusively for the first 48 hours of injury. After this period alternate ice with heat to warm the area up and use stretching to restore flexibility to the area.
If you have pulled a muscle in your back you should consider how the injury occurred in the first place. While there is little to prevent random accidents, you can do a lot to prevent overuse and overload. The first is to maintain good posture and increase the flexibility and strength of your core muscles in your back and abdomen. Building strength in this area will allow you to improve the ability to withstand heavier loads for longer durations. Alternate workouts to give your back a rest and cross-train with activities that don't add stress on the spine and back. These include swimming, yoga and Pilates.