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I have a minor muscle pull in my lower back (right side). The initial pull happened Friday, but I re-aggravated it somewhat last night. I'm trying to heal this injury as quickly as possible for an upcoming tennis tournament. I've been following the advice to use mostly ice and compression during the first 48 hours, then alternating in heat thereafter. This seemed to be helping until I stressed it a bit playing tennis last night.

Anyway, I'm wondering if I should also be taking Ibuprofen. Will it speed up healing beyond just using "RICE" or just help with pain management? I mostly only feel pain when I sit in certain positions or try to bend over (say, to put on socks), so pain is not really an issue most of the time. I just want to do whatever I can to heal as quickly as possible.

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

It depends. With ibuprofen in particular, the anti-inflammatory properties are beneficial. Initially inflammation is important for healing an injury, but too much inflammation is detrimental. Based on that I prefer to take ibuprofen if the inflammation persists, but not immediately after getting the injury.

Pain killers can also indirectly contribute to healing. If the pain prevents you from getting adequate rest, your body can't repair itself as effectively, so if taking a pain killer helps you sleep better that could actually help you recover from the injury faster.

For your specific situation, I wouldn't expect any painkiller to be particularly beneficial. If you feel pain only in certain positions rather than constant soreness that doesn't suggest inflammation, and if you can rest without feeling pain you wouldn't get any benefit from painkillers.

I would suggest finding a massage therapist who specialises in trigger points/myofascial release. It's something you could do yourself, but given the short time frame you describe a skilled practitioner is more likely to get you the results you need by the time you need it.

If that isn't an option, I would look into buying a foam roller. Lie on it with your back, find a point that hurts and steadily roll back and forth on it for no longer than a minute. You shouldn't necessarily be looking for where you feel the pain when you bend over, but for where you feel the pain from your bodyweight on the roller. Do it on both sides, and focus on your whole back. Do this several times per day. If it's not a serious injury it should get a lot better. You could even take the foam roller to the tennis tournament and do it between matches. Any time you treat muscle issues yourself they have a tendency to keep coming back for quite some time, but the temporary relief is often enough to let you do whichever activity it is you needed to do.

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Well stated on all points. +1 –  JohnP Jul 4 '12 at 20:51
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+1. Couldn't have asked for a better answer. I forgot to mention that I have been getting daily massages from someone who has taken some classes and is quite good though hasn't been trained specifically in trigger points/myofascial release. I like the idea of the foam roller as well. Thanks for your help! –  devuxer Jul 4 '12 at 22:02
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