Back Spasm Tips

By Sherwin Nicholson – SN Health Resources

If you’ve done something as innocent as turning or leaning your body, only to end up in crippling pain, then these tips will help you:

8 Important tips and recommendations for back spasms

If you are experiencing a painful back spasm or one that is just manageable, be careful during this sensitive moment.  How you react affects your recovery.  Without proper help, the spasm will return in the same manner as before.

Below are some important tips that will help you to manage them and to be better prepared.

For the best chances of recovery, follow these tips in order

For an in-depth discussion on why back spasms return & what more you can do, please also read , the Back Spasm page.

1) Stop your activity and find immediate rest

This may make sense, but many of us prefer to keep moving.

Do not try to actively work or move through the spasm until you know the source of the injury.

A very common reaction is to keep moving.  Although this might be helpful, it is important to determine whether your pain is more than just muscular in nature.

There are immediate reasons not to 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 these potential underlying injuries can cause further injury, intensifying the pain.

If you have a history of ANY of these injuries or suspect that your lifestyle (sports, work, inactivity) may contribute to it, then rest is a better option than simply muscling through it with pain killers.

2) Carefully move to a bed or comfortable flat surface to remain temporarily immobile

Spasms are a warning sign that you must not continue to move.  Your body is literally ‘locking up’ as a protective mechanism to guard you from injuring another part of your back that is weakened or injured.

Although this ‘locked up’ muscle may be causing you your pain as it tightens, it is not the source of the injury.

By laying down, you can help to stop triggering these muscles and can reduce both the intensity and duration of the pain.

If necessary, lie on the floor using cushions and pillows as a support.

Remember, this is only a temporary measure as prolonged immobility can actually worsen the pain.

Did your spasm occur just as you were reaching for or lifting something? Did it happen just out of the blue and during a very routine instance?  If so, you should follow this One Simple Rule to help reduce your chances of back spasms

3) Consciously try to relax your muscles with slow, deep breaths

Try to relax your muscles when they are in spasm with slow, deep and controlled breaths.  I know this is easier said than done.  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 to pain 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. It helps to 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 spasms’ 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 pain, 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 spasm, the reduced circulation and the build up of lactic acid makes the pain feel much worse.

Are You Struggling with Your Stretch Routine? Avoid these Pitfalls. They will Help Control Your Spasm.

4) Stretch the tightened muscle carefully and slowly

Try to lengthen your muscle 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.

This can 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 yourself, 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 decrease the amount of pain from that muscle.  This also reduces 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 re-spasm. 

Read About the Value of Stretching to Reduce Spasm Frequency

Reducing the intensity of a back spasm 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.

5) Treat the area with the following 4 methods:

i) Massage

You may of course need assistance with massage 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 slowly relax.  Your aim is to massage not just for comfort, but to help improve blood flow of the muscle itself.

Massage helps to increase oxygen circulation and will reduce the painful build up of lactic acid.

Avoid massaging if the muscle is directly over the source of injury. You don’t want to re-aggravate an injured joint or nerve with massage. 

ii) Pain Medication

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 to resolve your spasm.  Please use caution as these drugs along with other relaxants have their side effects.

Medication will only address the pain of the spasm, not the source.  By not treating the source, your spasm is very likely to return.

Numbing effect

Pain medication also has a “numbing” effect (desensitization).  This effect can mislead you to believe that your symptoms have been treated when in reality, you simply cannot feel them.  This can allow you to prematurely return to the activity or lifestyle that may have contributed to your spasm.

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 your recovery, it is more effective to take the 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 after your spasm, 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.

iv) Apply Moist Heat

After 72 hours, carefully apply moist heat.  A wet towel or warm shower will help.  Its is important to improve circulation to the injured muscle in order 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.

6) Replenish your nutrient stores

Make sure that you are drinking enough fluids as dehydration and loss of electrolytes may 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 muscle spasms.  If you allow these conditions to become chronic, you end up with muscle imbalances which will put you back at risk for more spasms.

7) 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 spasm could be reacting to.

In cases where treatment from a back spasm does not help, it is possible that you may have a disc issue such and a bulge or herniated disc.  Consult a physician to diagnose any serious injury that may be an underlying cause of your back spasms.

  • Herniated Disc
  • Spinal Stenosis
  • Arthritis of the Spine
  • Lordosis
  • Scoliosis
  • Spondylolysis
  • Spondylolisthesis

8) Avoid re-injury

Treatment requires persistent and careful attention for those who experience spasms repeatedly.  It is important to monitor your lifestyle activities in order 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 most common mistake for treatment

 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. This is the case with the lower back and hamstrings.

Observe the degree of your pelvic tilt.  The three common positions are neutral, anterior and posterior.  An excessive tilt  (usually as a result of imbalances from a tight rectus femoris, psoas major or hamstring) can trigger a back 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 against spasm.  If you are in need of some specific exercises for back spasm, begin with these 10 exercises.

Muscles that are likely to contract in the event of a back spasm include:

  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Internal abdominal obliques
  • Psoas major
  • Iliacus
  • 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 back spasms.  This can be from adaptive shortening syndrome.  For further help, please continue to read further.

These 8 tips will help you to resolve your current spasm

Recurring back spasms are painful experiences

By learning HOW to safely move and stretch everyday, you will prevent them from coming back

When you can resume normal activities again and have seen your doctor for underlying issues, follow a lower back pain exercise routine to prevent painful spasms.

Two simple exercises include the Seated Twist and the Lying Twist.  They will help you both to loosen, strengthen and stabilize your back, making it much easier for you to turn and reach. Back spasms can also lead to ‘muscle guarding’ which results in recurring morning back pain.

seated twist

lying twist exercise for back pain

lying twist

The seated and lying twist exercise 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 a spasm 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.


Back spasms are NOT a quick fix problem.

Treat your recurring spasms 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.

Download for Back Spasm Help


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