Why You Have Back Spasms – 8 Ways To Relieve & Prevent Pain
Updated February 21, 2018 | SN Health Resources
How do I stop my lower back spasms? What can I do to prevent them?
Remember, it is NOT just about managing them until they pass. It’s about prevention also. Here you can learn how to commit all 8 methods to memory for real relief.
Before you read on, know that you are actually battling 2 problems at the same time.
- The First is the intense muscular pain/contraction
- The Second is the underlying cause(s)
You have got to treat both. Don’t just relieve the muscle and carry on. There is more you can do to protect yourself.
8 Important Recommendations for Relieving Back Spasms
Note: If you are experiencing one right now or just want to manage them, be careful right now. How you react affects your recovery. Without proper help, the spasm will return in the same way.
For the best chances of recovery, follow in order so you’ll have maximum benefit
- Continue here for an in-depth discussion on why your spasms return & what more you can do now.
Stop your activity and find immediate rest
This may already make sense, but many of us prefer to keep moving. Some professionals actually recommend that you stay in motion, but if you are the unfortunate one to have a disc or nerve problem, then that is poor advice. You may end up visiting them for that instead.
Don’t try to actively work or move until you know the source of the injury.
A very common reaction is to keep moving but MAY be dangerous. Although this might feel helpful, it is important to determine whether your pain is more than just muscular in nature.
Why you should NOT move:
- potential lumbar disc injury (rupture, bulge, degeneration)
- lumbar nerve impingement (pressure on the nerve)
- torn or sprained back muscles (overexertion, poor posture)
- facet joint wear or irritation (lowered disc height, over-extension)
Moving when you have any of these injuries can cause further injury, intensifying the pain.
If you have a history of ANY of these injuries or suspect that your lifestyle may contribute to it (sports, work, inactivity), then rest is a better than simply muscling through it with medication.
Lastly with this first tip, you should know that you should also apply this caution to not just your back but also to your hips, knees and neck. Forcing yourself to move when these areas also hurt can be risky too!
2) LIE DOWN
Carefully move to a bed or comfortable flat surface to remain temporarily immobile
That spasm that you have is a nasty but very clear warning sign that you must not continue to move. Your body is literally ‘locking up’ to guard you against injuring another part of your back that is weakened or injured.
Although this ‘locked up’ muscle may hurt as it tightens, it is not usually the source of the injury.
By laying down, you can help to stop triggering these muscles and can reduce the intensity and duration of the pain.
You can lie on the floor using cushions and pillows as a support and just be patient. It’s better for you to focus on being somewhere calm so you can make yourself the priority.
Remember though that this is only a temporary measure as prolonged immobility could make things worse.
Did your contraction happen while reaching for, or lifting something? Did it happen just out of the blue and during a very simple activity? If so, you should follow this One Simple Rule to help reduce your chances of back spasms.
3) RELAX & BREATHE
Consciously try to relax your muscles with slow, deep breaths
Seriously, I know this much easier said than done, but you NEED to do it.
If you learn to breathe the right way, it won’t hurt so easily. Breathing poorly will move your rib cage too erratically and might trigger your back muscles again.
Try to relax your muscles when they are in spasm with slow, deep and controlled breaths. It’s pretty painful to breathe deeply when you have a full attack, but it will get you to focus more.
We tend to breathe very quickly and shallow when we are in pain. Shallow breaths or even holding your breath is a natural reaction, but will only add to the discomfort.
Inhale slowly and deeply for a count of 5 seconds, pause 1 second, and exhale 3-4 seconds. Do not pause at the end of the exhale. Repeat.
Visualization will help by imagining a tight knot being unraveled as you inhale. Picture the muscles extending as you inhale to stretch your rib cage fully.
As the muscles are contracting intensely, they are also over contracting, making it counter-productive.
Since you have already stopped moving, you are now trying to shut off the muscles’ need also to do this. Breathing deeply is key to relaxing a muscle which is becoming progressively shorter and more painful.
As you try to relax, avoid any movements that allow the muscle to shorten
Because of the intensity, duration and source of the injury, it is natural to react and to contract your body further. Even unwillingly.
To avoid this, focus on slowly inhaling while at the same time minimizing your movements. When in contraction, the reduced circulation and the build up of lactic acid makes you feel much worse.
Lengthen the tightened muscle carefully and slowly
It’s this tip/step that could reveal for you, how serious your back injury might be. If it doesn’t take very long for you to stretch and relax your way out of the pain, then you most likely have a simple muscle associated problem.
Here is the bad news.
If you are finding this tip/step to be a hard to do and it is taking a really long time to do, you may have a much more serious problem beyond your muscular pain.
I don’t mean to be the bad messenger but it’s your body and you need to see this as an important moment to recognize what you underlying injury may be.
Try to lengthen your muscles by extending it, using movement opposite to the contraction of the muscle.
Lying on your side while crossing your arms as you hunch forward can help
Gradually increase the extension slight fractions of an inch and hold.
Extending take several minutes to accomplish. If possible, have someone assist you in with the extension. Maintain very slow, controlled inward and outward breaths to become calm and to relax, even though you are uncomfortable.
Note: You are only trying to lengthen the muscle. Don’t overstretch.
Only allow very slight increments. By increasing the length of the muscle, you will relieve that muscle. You’ll also reduce the injury to the area that the muscle is trying to protect.
Alternate periods of stretching with resting pauses. Don’t allow the muscle to contract during your rest phase as it may start again.
Reducing the intensity of the contraction can take anywhere from several minutes to hours if necessary. The degree of injury is a major factor. Each time that you attempt to relax and lengthen the muscle, it will try to respond by tightening up. Holding your position will help you avoid this.
If you have taken a very long time to use this tip for your pain, then please consider medical help initially. My site is loaded with lots of help for you also but you should also get your doctor’s support.
Treat the area 4 ways:
Tip #5 is to help to avoid triggering into another episode and tip #4 again.
Without treatment, the muscle that you just spent time relaxing, may re-tighten
You may, of course, need assistance with massaging since it will be hard to assist yourself.
Gentle massaging along the length and sides of the muscle will help by soothing the pain and allowing the muscle to relax slowly even more. Your aim is to massage not just for comfort but to help improve blood flow to the muscle itself.
Massage helps to increase oxygen circulation and will reduce the painful buildup of lactic acid.
Don’t go nuts and massage your back like you are at the spa now. This massage is mainly for blood flow. If you over do it, you’ll aggravate the problem and can also risk putting pressure on a disc or joint problem.
Avoid massaging if you suspect that your sore muscle is directly over the source of injury.
This would include an injured disc, joint, nerve or sprained muscle. You don’t want to re-aggravate an injured joint or nerve with massage.
ii) Pain Medication
Be careful regarding the risks of relying on painkillers. It is a risk when it is your ‘go to’ so that’s why it’s not recommended until now and ONLY sometimes.
If the pain is severe and mobility is difficult, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory or anti-spasmodic medication may be required. Use with caution and only if needed.
There will be times when a muscle relaxant (such as baclofen or methocarbamol) may seem like the only effective method. Please use caution as these drugs along with other relaxants have their side effects.
Medication will only address the pain, not the source. By not treating the cause, your spasm is very likely to return.
Pain medication also has a “numbing” effect (desensitization). The effect can mislead you to believe that your symptoms have been treated when in reality, you simply cannot feel them. Desensitization may allow you to prematurely return to the activity or lifestyle that may have caused your spasm.
I have heard a lot of people do this too often only to end up with both permanent soft tissue and bone injury. If you numb these areas with drugs, they can’t warn you anymore.
When these nerves (muscular and lumbar) have become temporarily ‘desensitized’, you are more likely to re-injure yourself without your awareness.
Minimize your dosage
To help with your recovery, it is more effective to take a minimal dosage of pain medication such that you can still be aware of your discomfort. By doing this, you will have much better awareness and control of your recovery as your injury resolves. This will require a longer recovery time but will minimize your likelihood of premature injury and pain.
iii) Apply a Cold Pack
For the first 48-72 hours, carefully apply a cold pack to the area to reduce any inflammation present. Protect the skin from any risk of ice burn with a thin towel before applying the pack. Apply for 20 minutes and use every 1-2 hours as needed.
Caution: Not everyone benefits from a cold pack. If you find applying cold only numbs your pain while you are still stiff, then either reduce the length of time you apply it, or avoid cold treatment. Some people are more likely to feel even stiffer with cold treatment. The goal is to relax the muscle, not shock it.
I recommend that you go with what works for you. Personally, I prefer heat instead, but everyone has their own preferences.
iv) Apply Moist Heat
After 72 hours, carefully apply moist heat. A wet towel or warm shower will help. It is important to improve circulation to the injured muscle for it to recover and function well.
Caution: With heat, you want to avoid applying too much as this can increase swelling. If the heat causes an inflamed joint to swell, you will be re-injured.
Rehydrate and rebuild your nutrient stores
Make sure that you are drinking enough fluids as dehydration and loss of electrolytes affect the length and success of your recovery. Low blood calcium, magnesium and potassium levels can affect some people who suffer from spasms.
These levels will fall drastically during intense exercise and can contribute to the problem of muscle contractions. If you allow these conditions to become chronic, you end up with muscle imbalances which will put your back at risk again.
A very good friend of mine told me about her chronic nightmares of spasms and pain. She tried everything only to finally resolve them by increasing her calcium, magnesium and potassium levels adequately with a supplement. It didn’t take long for her to feel a lot better. She said it was like night and day. It’s definitely worth a try if you haven’t considered it yet?
7) VISIT YOUR DOCTOR
See your doctor for these potential underlying illnesses
Don’t just treat a back spasm as temporary discomfort. It may not merely be muscular in nature as they are often a big warning sign.
There may be something more serious that you are not aware of. This may be what your body could be reacting to.
In cases where treatment does not help, it is possible that you may have a disc issue such and a bulge or herniated disc. It is important to know when you should see a doctor to diagnose any serious injury that may be an underlying cause.
- Herniated Disc
- Spinal Stenosis
- Arthritis of the Spine
8) PROTECT YOURSELF
Avoid re-injury and recondition your muscles
I hope that you have reached this final Tip. Most people actually do this step, but very poorly if at all.
For tips 1-7, you can more or less memorize them, recall them and practice them well. Please commit them to memory ASAP. Thank you.
However, if you forget about Tip #8, you’ll be visiting Google, this page, the medicine cabinet or your doctor too many times and that will suck.
Treatment requires persistent and careful attention for those who experience spasms repeatedly. It is important to monitor your lifestyle activities to know what may bring them on.
After recovery, it is natural to assume that your spasm occurred as a result of a weak muscle or set of muscles groups.
Avoid rushing into the 2 most common mistakes for treatment
MISTAKE #1. Do not to rush into basic strengthening exercises such as sit-ups, crunches or lower back extensions. This may help for some, but in most cases, these areas are already tight, short and strong. Tightness and overly strong muscle conditioning is usually the case with the lower back and hamstrings.
MISTAKE #2. Simply resting and returning to your daily whatever. Weren’t you doing this JUST BEFORE it happened? No, my friend. There needs to be a plan and you are here for actual solutions right?
Observe the degree of your pelvic tilt. The three common positions are neutral, anterior and posterior. An excessive angle (usually as a result of imbalances from a tight rectus femoris, psoas major or hamstring) can trigger another spasm.
Exercises such as sit-ups and crunches can help but should not be done first as they are considered as isolation type exercises. They do not condition the core muscle groups to protect you. If you are in need of some specific exercises, begin with these 10 exercises.
Muscles that are likely to contract during a back spasm include:
- Latissimus dorsi
- Internal abdominal obliques
- Psoas major
- Quadratus lumborum
- Erector spinae
If you spend long hours of sitting in the office, driving, and at home on the couch, you can easily trigger another episode. This can be caused by adaptive shortening syndrome.
These 8 ways will help you to resolve your current spasm
9) What another way?
Yes! This is such an important point because recurring episodes have specific causes.
By learning HOW to safely move and stretch every day, you will prevent them from happening again.
Two simple exercises from the eBook include the Seated Twist and the Lying Twist. They will help you both to loosen, strengthen and stabilize your spine, making it much easier for you to turn and reach to avoid triggering another spasm.
Reducing your back spasms will also reduce ‘muscle guarding’, a major factor which causes many to suffer from recurring pain in the morning.
The Seated and Lying Twist exercises help to release tight, lower back muscles which can fatigue and trigger a spasm. If you suffer from them, you may find that even these simple movements can be difficult to execute in full range.
As with all exercises, don’t force yourself to perform the full stretch right away. You may cause more pain by doing this. Work your way up one degree or inch at a time very slowly over several days. Remember, your body is NOT accustomed to such movement.
It is common to trigger yourself by reaching or moving in a twisted position due to excessive tightness. They can strike during even the most mundane and simple of action such as reaching for a pen on the floor. These exercises help you to improve these tight areas to protect you.
More Help For You:
- Why Do I Keep Getting Back Spasms?
- Exercises and Stretches to Reduce Spasms.
- Don’t Bend and Lift the Wrong Way. Try a Safer Way to Lift.
STRETCH AND STRENGTHEN THE MUSCLES THAT ARE PRONE TO SPASM WHILE CONDITIONING THE CORE MUSCLES THAT PROTECT YOU
Back spasms are NOT a quick fix problem.
Treat yourself with a proven series of movements and stretches from the Low Back Pain Program. This guide instructs you with everyday techniques to protect and minimize you from spasm.
This downloadable guide teaches you what to do carefully and step by step.
- Back Pain – The Facts – John Lee, Clare Daniel, Suzanne Brook. NY. Oxford University Press – 2009. 617.564Lee
- Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation for back pain-http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23985153
- Effect of lumbar stabilization and dynamic lumbar strengthening exercises in patients with chronic lbp.-http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23525973
- General information-Fact Sheet-NIH-http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/detailbp.htm