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Treating Back Spasms: A Comprehensive Guide

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Learning the cause of the problem and how to effectively manage it can help individuals experiencing back spasms to quickly and safely return to previous levels of function and activity.

Treating Back Spasms: A Comprehensive Guide

Back Spasm

Individuals dealing with back pain or sciatica usually describe the symptoms as the back muscles tightening or spasming. A back spasm can feel mild, like a fist pressing into one side of the spine or an intense pain that prevents the individual from sitting, standing, or walking comfortably. Bask spasms can become severe, causing difficulty maintaining normal upright posture.

What Is A Spasm

A back spasm is a sudden onset of back muscle tightness. Sometimes, the tight sensation becomes so intense and severe that it prevents the individual from moving normally. Some individuals have difficulty bending forward because of the pain and tightness.

Symptoms

Most episodes last several hours to several days. Severe cases can last about six to eight weeks, but the spasms and pain subside gradually, allowing the individual to move normally and resume normal activity. Common sensations and symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty bending.
  • A tight sensation in the back.
  • Pulsing pains and sensations.
  • Pain on one or both sides of the back.

Sometimes, the spasm can cause radiating pain in the buttocks and hips. When severe, it can be accompanied by nerve pain, numbness, and tingling that radiates down one or both legs. (Medline Plus. 2022)

Causes

Back spasms are caused by tight muscle tissue, which often results from some mechanical stress. The stress causes the muscle tissue near the spine to be pulled abnormally. As a result of the pulling, the muscle fibers become taut and painful. Mechanical causes of back spasms may include: (Merck Manual, 2022)

  • Poor sitting and/or standing posture.
  • Repetitive overuse injury.
  • Lumbar strains.
  • Lumbar disc herniations.
  • Low back osteoarthritis.
  • Spondylolisthesis – vertebrae shift out of position, including anterolisthesis and retrolisthesis.
  • Spinal stenosis

All these can place increased stress on the anatomical structures in the spine. The lower back muscles near these structures may go into a protective spasm that can also cause a tight and painful sensation in the back. Other non-mechanical causes of low back spasms include: (Merck Manual, 2022)

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Lack of physical activity and exercise
  • Fibromyalgia

Risk Factors

Risk factors for back spasms include: (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2023)

  • Age
  • Job-related factors – constant lifting, pushing, pulling, and/or twisting.
  • Poor sitting posture or sitting for long periods without back support.
  • Lack of physical conditioning.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Psychological conditions – anxiety, depression, and emotional stress.
  • Family medical history of ankylosing spondylitis.
  • Smoking

Individuals can stop smoking, start exercising, or engage in positive activities to help manage stress. Individuals dealing with back spasms may need to see a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment

Treatment for back spasms can include home remedies or therapies from medical providers. The treatments are designed to relieve the spasms and manage the mechanical stresses that may have caused them. Medical professionals can also show strategies to prevent spasms. Home remedies can include: (Merck Manual, 2022)

  • Application of heat or ice
  • Low back massage
  • Postural adjustments
  • Gentle stretching
  • Analgesic medication
  • Anti-inflammatory medication (Anuj Bhatia et al., 2020)

If self-care strategies are unable to provide relief, individuals may need to visit a medical professional for treatment. Medical treatments can include: (Merck Manual, 2022)

  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Acupuncture
  • Non-surgical decompression
  • Transcutaneous electrical neuromuscular stimulation
  • Steroid injections
  • Lumbar surgery is a last resort treatment.

Most individuals are able to manage symptoms with physical therapy or chiropractic, which includes learning exercises and posture adjustments to relieve tightness.

Prevention

Simple lifestyle adjustments can have a significant effect on back spasms. Ways to prevent back spasms can include: (Medline Plus. 2022) (Merck Manual, 2022)

  • Maintaining hydration throughout the day.
  • Modifying movements and bending and lifting techniques.
  • Practicing postural correction techniques.
  • Performing daily stretching and strengthening exercises.
  • Engaging in cardiovascular exercise.
  • Performing meditation or other stress management techniques.

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References

Medline Plus. (2022). Low back pain—acute. Retrieved from medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007425.htm

Merck Manual. (2022). Low back pain. Merck Manual Consumer Version. www.merckmanuals.com/home/bone,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/low-back-and-neck-pain/low-back-pain

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2023). Back pain. Retrieved from www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/back-pain?

Bhatia, A., Engle, A., & Cohen, S. P. (2020). Current and future pharmacological agents for the treatment of back pain. Expert opinion on pharmacotherapy, 21(8), 857–861. doi.org/10.1080/14656566.2020.1735353

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The information herein on "Treating Back Spasms: A Comprehensive Guide" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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