Muscle spasms in your back can occur while you are doing something physically challenging or while doing something completely routine. Whether it is heavy lifting or bending over to tie the shoelaces, it could cause a distinctive sudden, sharp pain triggered by an involuntary muscle contraction. It may be a sign of over-exertion or a warning sign that there is a more serious underlying issue in your spine.
What to do when you have back muscle cramps?
To relieve your back muscle cramps, adjust your position accordingly to help the pain subsides. You can lie on your back or side on a firm surface or with a pillow between your knees to relieve the pain during the day and while you’re trying to sleep at night.
While lying down you can place an ice pack wrapped in a soft towel underneath the spot where the spasm occurred for 15 to 20 minutes. You can do this three to four times a day for the first 48 to 72 hours to reduce the pain and inflammation. If it doesn’t work, use moist heat to increase circulation so you will feel more comfortable, or you can alternate between ice and heat applications to make sure that your muscles are reacting accordingly to both heat and cold. Do not lie on the ice pack for more than 20 minutes as prolonged exposure can cause frostbite or nerve damage.
Over-the-counter pain reliever such as Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication can help reduce the pain and inflammation. This includes ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) naproxen (Aleve) and aspirin. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may also help even though it does not address the inflammation.
Although you prefer to stay put after the incident, it’s much better to move around a bit than being in total bed rest. Limited and mild movement will help blood flow and consequently help in the healing process. Meanwhile, inactivity can cause muscles to stiffen, which can lead to more pain or even another spasm. Hence, once the pain becomes tolerable, try walking slowly for a few minutes several times a day.
Contact your doctor if the spasms continue. You may be prescribed with muscle relaxants or cortisone injection to relieve the pain.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, spinal manipulation, with the help of osteopath or chiropractor can provide mild-to-moderate relief from low-back pain including back spasms. Spinal manipulation is reported to work as well as conventional treatments such as taking pain-relieving medications, applying heat and using a firm mattress.
Possible causes of muscle spasm
There is no single mechanism that accounts for back spasms, but back strains such as muscle, tendon or ligament tears are the most common cause. Heavy lifting or any activity that puts excessive strain on the muscles and ligaments in the lower back can cause the injury. Football and golf are two examples of sports can lead to back spasms due to repetitive sudden back turn.
Muscles spasm may also occur in response to underlying anatomical problems in your spine. This includes skeletal irregularities such as scoliosis or a bulging disc that presses against a nerve, causing the surrounding muscles to involuntarily contract. Osteoarthritis, which is characterised by degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone with ageing can also affect the back muscles although it can cause pain and stiffness at any joint. In these cases, the muscle instinctively reacts to the pain and inflammation caused by the anatomical problems by going into a spasm.
Your back muscles may be more vulnerable if you have weak abdominal muscles as it helps support the back. Weak or stiff muscles in the back itself can be injured more easily than muscles that are stronger and more flexible.
Once you have recovered from the pain, avoid sitting in the same position for long periods of time. Try to get up and stretch every 20 to 25 minutes. Move slowly and carefully before you return to normal daily activities. Use a lower back support to remind you to sit and stand straight so that the pressure is distributed evenly on the muscles of the lower back. Keep your back as straight as possible and use your legs when lifting heavy objects. Do not bend at the waist. Avoid slouching when sitting.
If you’re overweight, losing a few kilos will relieve stress on the muscles prone to spasm. A regular physical activity that includes strengthening exercises such as wall squats, knees to chest, trunk raises, and leg lifts will help you move better and more safely.
Most back problems, including muscle spasms, will subside with time with or without treatment. But if you suffer a debilitating back spasm, get professional help and avoid doing the things that will keep spasms from recurring.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: November 15, 2018 | Last Modified: November 15, 2018
Jinny O. Tavee and Kerry H. Levin, ‘Low Back Pain’, Continuum (Minneapolis, Minn.) 23, no. 2, Selected Topics in Outpatient Neurology (April 2017): 467–86, https://doi.org/10.1212/CON.0000000000000449.