Muscle spasms in the low back can be very painful, and they may even have you feeling like you can’t move without triggering intense pain. Back spasms can range from a mild ache to extreme pain that can bring you to your knees.
Fortunately, there are ways to help prevent muscle spasms from happening or at least make them less likely to happen.
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If you are having back spasms then there are steps you can take to reduce the intensity and quickly recover.
In this article, I will go over low back muscle spasms causes, symptoms of low back muscle spasms, what we know about low back muscle spasm treatments and prevention strategies.
What are Back Spasms?
Back spasms are a sudden and painful cramp or shortening of the low back muscles. In most cases, low back muscle spasms come about when there is an injury to some part of the spine (such as a herniated disc), which results in pain signals being sent from nearby nerves to the spinal cord.
This pain signal then causes the body to protect the area and results in a muscle spasm and resulting pain.
Another common cause of back spasms is Facet Syndrome or irritation of the facet joints. These joints are sensitive to pressure and too much loading which can cause the muscles to spasm to protect the joint from further irritation.
Back spasms can also happen out of the blue with no apparent cause other than an unfortunate movement that acted as a trigger.
Symptoms of Low Back Muscle Spasms can include:
Despite the pain, there are other symptoms that also accompany lumbar spine muscle spasms:
- Sudden, sharp pain in the low back area may be felt shooting through the whole muscle.
- A potential tingling sensation and numbness over an area on your leg where it feels like the nerves are being pinched.
- A constant dull low-level pain in the low back.
- Inability to move your lower body well due to low back muscle spasms.
- A decrease in the strength of leg muscles without any other apparent cause.
- An intense tightness when touching the muscle
What Causes Back Spasms?
Unfortunately, low back muscle spasms can happen for a number of reasons. Muscle spasms in the low back are often caused by a herniated disc or other injuries to the spine area that disrupts nerve signals.
The following factors have been found to be associated with low back muscle spasms:
Poor Posture and Slouching
Individuals who slouch or have poor posture are more likely to have low back muscle spasms. This is because the low back muscles in these individuals are not as taut, which makes them easier for injury and low back muscle spasms to occur. Slouching also puts pressure on joints of your spine that can aggravate low back muscle spasms.
Obesity has been found to be associated with low back muscle spasm in a number of ways: it puts increased pressure on the spine, which can lead to low back muscle spasms; obese individuals also have more inflammation and tissue damage from this added weight that result in low back pain.
Poor Low Back muscle flexibility
Low back muscles may be more susceptible to low back pain and low back muscle spasms if they are not well-flexible. Flexibility in the muscles has an association with positive back health.
Weakness in the Back and Core Muscles
Weakness in low back muscles can lead to low back muscle spasms. This is because when these muscles are not strong enough, they may not be able to properly support the low back during dynamic movements.
Low-back muscle strengthening exercises can help improve the strength of the low back area so that it’s less susceptible to low back muscle spasms or injuries.
Core strength is also a good predictor of back health. The core muscles help stabilize the spine during twisting and bending movements.
What's the Best Position to Get Into With Active Back Spasms?
Given low back muscle spasms are caused by injury or inflammation, it is best not to try and move the area that hurts.
The following positions may help with pain relief for low back spams:
- Laying on your back on the floor with your legs resting on the couch. This puts your hips and knees at 90 degrees and takes the pressure off the back.
- Laying on your stomach over a large pillow or pillows can put less pressure on your spine while giving you some relief from low back pain.
- Laying on your back with a pillow under the knees can also provide some relief from low back muscle spasms.
How Can I Prevent Low Back Muscle Spasms?
There are a number of things that you can do in order to help prevent low back muscle spasms from happening.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese is associated with low back muscle spasms, so maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall spine health. In addition, if you are already carrying around extra pounds then it might be worth looking into ways for losing the added weight for long-term health and prevention of back spasms.
Maintain Low Back Muscle Strength
It is important to maintain low back muscle strength to support the spine through all of the complex motions that it performs during a day. This includes bending, lifting, and twisting. Without the needed strength, those activities may load the spine more than it can tolerate.
Improve Low Back Muscle Flexibility
Low back muscle spasms can also be prevented by improving low back muscles. One way to do this is through strengthening exercises that target the low back area such as yoga, pilates, or exercise machines. These movements should not aggravate your low back injury and help strengthen low back muscles.
Be Aware of Body Mechanics at Work and at Home
In addition, make sure that your chair at work meets ergonomic standards so you are not slouching excessively while sitting down for long periods of time.
Back spasms may be preceded by tightness or achiness before they go into spasms. It’s at these times it’s important to be aware of your posture and mechanics when lifting. Some helpful tips are
- Try and lift with your legs
- Brace your spine by tightening your abdominal muscles
- Squat in situations when you can instead of bending
What to do If you are Having Back Spasms?
If you are having low back muscle spasms, the following tips may help:
Applying a hot pack to low back muscle spasms can help relieve pain. Heat is a great way to help the muscles relax and calm down. Apply the hot pack in a comfortable position such as laying down on top of your hot pack. You can use heat for up to 20-25 minutes overall.
Stretching the Low Back
Stretching can help relieve low back muscle spasms by lengthening low back muscles which can create less tension and tightness, helping them to relax. Start off stretching lightly so that you don’t send the muscle into spasms. If the stretching goes well initially, then you can stretch the muscles further. Try to hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds each time.
See a Physical Therapist
If the low back muscle spams are not relieved by any of these tips, then you may need to see your physical therapist for more help. They can find the cause of the muscle spasms, teach you the correct stretches for your specific spasms, and even perform dry needling to reset the nerve and muscle communication.
If you are having low back muscle spasms, your doctor or healthcare provider may prescribe a medication for relief. Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can also be helpful in low back muscle spasms.
Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking plenty of water can be helpful for low back pain. It is important to drink enough so that your body has a good supply of fluids and minerals which will keep muscles well hydrated and increase flexibility in low back muscles.
Take a Break from Aggravating Activities but Not Complete Rest
If low back muscle spasms are severe and painful then it may be best to take some time off. This gives muscles the opportunity for rest, which will help them heal faster and improve low back pain.
However, complete rest is not the best option. Try to stay active with short walks or even a light bike ride. The more mobile and active you are, the sooner the back muscles will quit spasming and let you get back to normal activities.
If low back muscle spasms are causing a lot of discomfort, then it may be best to take over-the-counter pain medication. There are a variety of medications that can help relieve low back muscle spasms by blocking the nerves or reducing inflammation in low back muscles. It is important to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any medications.
Drugs that may be prescribed include NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
How to Sleep With Back Spasms
If low back spasms are causing trouble sleeping, then the following tips may help:
Lay Down on your Side with Pillow Between the Knees
The first position of relief is laying down on your side with a pillow between the knees. By doing this, your low back muscle spasms may be relieved by putting less pressure on the spine. It should also help to relax low back muscles which can further improve the intensity of spasms and speed up healing.
Sleep on your Back with a Pillow under the Knees
Sleeping on your back might be the only option that you have to get comfortable in some situations. If this is the case be sure to place a pillow underneath your knees to keep them bent and take pressure off your back.
Sleep on your Back with Low Back Supported on Pillows
If low back pain is not too severe, then sleeping on the back can provide low-pressure support for low back muscle spasms. It may also be helpful to sleep with a pillow under the knees and another supporting low back muscles. This will keep pressure off of these areas while you sleep and low back muscle spasms should be less likely to occur.
Should I Use Ice or Heat with Back Spasms?
We recommend using heat if you are having back spasms. Heat will bring blood to the muscles and the spine to encourage healing. Heat also relaxes muscles and helps decrease the painful tension that’s the trademark of back spasms.
How Long Will Muscle Spasms Last?
Muscle spasms can last for a day at the minimum or sometimes up to weeks at a time. It depends on the cause of the muscle spasm more than anything. If it was a fluke dehydration issue then it can go away quickly.
If it is caused by a disc herniation then they may last for up to 4-6 weeks until that back has started to calm down.
Unfortunately, low back muscle spasms can last for a long time and there is no set way to tell how they will affect you.
It may be helpful to speak with your doctor or physical therapist about low back pain in order to find out what would work best at helping low back muscle spasms.
Muscle spasms in low back areas can be caused by a number of different things. It is important to find out the cause of low back muscle spasms and how they should be treated so that low back pain goes away quickly.
One way to help with this is through maintaining low back muscles, improving low back muscle strength, drinking plenty of water, and taking time off from low back activities. Low back muscle spasms can last for a day at the minimum or up to weeks depending on what caused it.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. This is not a substitute for a medical appointment. Please refer to your physician before starting any exercise program.