Muscle spasms in your back can be so painful that they may have you headed to the urgent treatment centre. If you experience a back muscle spasm, you need to listen to the message and take stock. You are either being told not to try that activity again or it might be warning that something more serious is going on.
Causes of muscle spasm
First of all determine the cause.
In general, most lower back muscles spasms occur because of the following reasons:
The muscles are trying to protect themselves from muscle strain
A back spasm can occur after any type of strain or injury to the soft tissues—the muscles, tendons or ligaments—in the spine. Following the general treatment guidelines below and the recommendations from your doctor or physical therapist and that should go a long way in relieving your pain, and your back muscles should calm down in a week or so.
The muscles can spasm in response to an underlying anatomical problem
If your back spasm does not get better in 1 to 2 weeks, or it comes and goes over time in the same area of your back, you may have an underlying anatomical problem in your spine. Examples of underlying issues that could cause your back to spasm include:
Osteoarthritis, degenerate disc disease, a herniated (slipped disc) or spinal stenosis
In these cases, the pain is coming from the anatomical problem, and the muscle instinctively reacts to the pain and inflammation by going into a spasm. If this is the case for you, then you will want to seek medical attention in order to treat not just the acute pain but also to address the underlying cause of your symptoms.
First aid for a painful back muscle spasm
When your back goes into spasm, the first step is to get some immediate relief from the intense pain. The initial goal of treating the muscle spasm is to get the muscle to relax, thus relieving the pain. Some effective treatments include:
These are prescription medications that do not directly target the muscles; rather, they have an overall relaxing affect on your body. They are typically only prescribed if there is intense, acute pain, and only on a short-term basis. An examples of a muscle relaxant medication is Valium
Applying ice wrapped in a protective sheath or towel, or a cold pack, to the painful part of your back is another way to help relieve an acute flare up of pain. As a general guideline, cold therapy will help reduce local inflammation, which in turn contributes to relieving pain. You can use a commercial ice pack or a bag of frozen peas works quite well! Make sure you cover it in a towel to protect your skin from ice burn, and apply it to the painful area of your back.
A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) can help reduce inflammation and pain. Examples of over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. These are not suitable for everyone and shouldn’t be used in people with asthma or stomach problems it is worth checking with a pharmacist before using these drugs unless you know there are no contraindications for you taking them. Of course inflammation is a natural part of the healing process and so keep ‘stamping’ on the inflammatory process is not always advisable.
Reduce stress on your back
For a severe muscle spasm, you may find movement is too painful and you need to rest. When you rest, you can reduce stress on your lower back by laying on your back in bed with your upper body supported at a slight incline and a pillow propped under your knees, or sitting at an incline in a reclining chair with your legs supported and knees slightly bent.
Walk as much as possible
To whatever extent possible, try to get up and move as much as possible. For example, this could mean a day of mainly rest, followed by a day that includes several short walks around the house, followed by a day with a short walk every hour or half hour, or longer walks as tolerated. Prolonged inactivity will stiffen your muscles and will likely lead to more pain. In general, walking is gentle on your back and promotes blood flow, which in turn helps speeds the healing process.
Heating pads and heat therapy
Applying a heating pad to the affected area can bring soothing pain relief. Some people find heat is best, some prefer ice, and some find it most helpful to alternate the two therapies. You try a see what works best for you.
If your spasm has occurred as a result of an overuse injury or muscle strain, these measures will get you through the relatively small amount of time it will take for the muscle to heal and go back to normal.
On the other hand, if your spasm is occurring in response to an underlying problems, these treatments will help treat the pain, but the underlying cause of the problem will still need to be addressed.
Whatever the cause of your back muscle spasm, after the acute pain has resolved you will want to consider, if you don’t already do so, coming to classes that will give you the best chance of avoiding a future flareup of pain.