Back spasm treatments


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For those of you not familiar with the term ‘back spasm’ it directly (and clinically) describes the involuntary contraction/tensing of the muscles situated in the lower back, and can range in severity from mild and infrequent instances (with related discomfort) to the presence of more chronic pain (which often renders basic movements difficult for the sufferer).

The good news is that back spasms can usually be treated effectively without the need for surgery, the majority of which (from an exercise perspective) can be performed from home; and which when carried out effectively work both to lessen the physically debilitating impact and provide varying degrees of pain relief more commonly associated with back spasms.

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How do back spasms differ from ordinary aches and pains?

With respect to those who’ve experienced what might be otherwise acknowledged as aches and pains affecting the back (often age-related), back spasms are a totally difference ball game and habitually occur following a torn muscle or overuse injury; which in turn leads to inflammation in the localised area of the back.

The resultant inflammation tends to overstimulate the nerves that connect the back muscles and cause them to contract sharply, resulting in the onset of a painful spasm.

So what sort of actions normally cause back spasms in the first place?

Generally-speaking back spasms occur as a result of injuries which have compromised the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the back, however on certain occasions the presence of back spasms can be related to more serious medical conditions.

In terms of an actual cause of the medical effect, and heavy (and/or incorrect) lifting is a recurrent reason, and essentially any activity which places excessive strain or pressure on the muscles (and ligaments) supporting the lower back can be a pre-cursor to an uncomfortable and inconvenient injury.

You see the muscles themselves are reacting to the strain suddenly imposed upon them and are protecting themselves, and as such a back spasm can occur after any type of strain (or injury) to the soft tissues—the muscles, tendons or ligaments—in the spine as already hinted at.

In other instances those muscles of the back are responding to an underlying anatomical problem which will require further examination and assessments carried out by your GP or other health practitioner, especially if the spasms don’t relinquish after a couple of weeks; or alternatively should they come and go over time in the same area of your back, which could indicate that you have an underlying anatomical problem in your spine.

What underlying issues might trigger back spasms?

Examples of underlying issues that could cause your back to spasm include the likes of:

  • Facet joint osteoarthritis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Pain from a herniated disc

In these cases, the pain is coming from the anatomical problem, and the muscle instinctively reacts to the pain and inflammation by reverting to spasm as a natural defence mechanism almost. 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.

Seeking assurances from a medical expert either way is always recommended, and they – or a physical therapist – are best placed to helping formulate a plan of attack with the ultimate goal being to relieve the symptoms of your back spasm and work towards ensuring that your back is stronger and more resolute to cope with any future issue which may crop up.

What are the best back spasm treatments?

They’re predominantly two-fold, and as such are divided into the two camps; namely physical treatments and heat treatments. Each category/angle comprises of a couple of measures within the broader picture, as we’ll explain in a bit more detail beneath.

Firstly let’s look at physical treatments which are, for the most part, the initial port of call when treating a back spasm. Here’s the low-down on the what, why, how, when and where:

  • Apply Pressure – Applying pressure to the area of your back where you feel the spasm can provide a measured amount of relief. Simply press down firmly with your fingers until the spasm subsides of its own accord. If you feel the spasm intensify, then maintain the pressure until it stops by its own natural cause
  • Simulate Hydrotherapy – Again another relatively straightforward and simplistic method for dealing with back spasms, this time sufferers are advised to reach for a conventional shower head and proceed to direct the jet of water directly onto the affected part of your back. And to remember to switch between hot and cold water for 30 seconds each
  • Gentle Stretches and Strengthening – This is more an afterthought more than a first line of defence in the battle against the advent of back spasms, yet equally as vital to the cause. Once the pain has dissipated and you’re feeling a little better, experts suggest attempting gentle stretches to loosen up the tightness in your back; whilst it’s also worthwhile to introduce some dedicated back-strengthening exercises into your training regime at the same juncture. Having said that it’s imperative that you consult your GP/healthcare professional/physiotherapist beforehand

The second means of pain relief from back spasms comes in the welcome shape and form of heat treatments, with the following tactics being of most use from the outset. As before, here’s the all-important what, why, how, when and where (regarding  heat treatments and cooling compresses at least), and from the get-go it’s advised to alternate between both hot and cold compresses to alleviate the pain which emanates from inflammation (the aforementioned trigger mechanism to a back spasm), so here we address both concepts:

  • Ice Packs – Icing your back can help to reduce the inflammation that triggers the spasm. Simply apply an ice pack to your back for a period of no more than 20 minutes in duration. Once 20 minutes has elapsed, remove said ice pack for 90 minutes. Please note, you can then re-administer the ice pack for another 20 minutes thereafter and effectively repeat this frequently over the course of 2 to 3 days after first acknowledging the back spasm
  • Heat Treatment – Ideally you should commence heat treatment no sooner than 72 hours after the onset of a spasm. The heat will serve to relax the muscle fibres and promote circulation to the area which assists in the multi-faceted healing process.  Note: You should ensure that your heat source is damp, so soaking in showers or baths is advised

Are there any other treatment options available to me in my bid to tackle back spasms?

Yes. You could always choose to go down the painkiller path, either separately (or as we recommend) in tandem with the abovementioned therapeutically-beneficial ventures, which collaboratively will reap greater rewards. Should you find that normal paracetamol (or ibuprofen) are failing to have the desired effect, you could always try acetaminophen.

This painkiller is also available over the counter and is popular amongst back-pain sufferers, many of whom swear by it.  It works differently from ordinary painkillers in that is lessens your perception of pain in the brain and it appears to be particularly effective for fighting the effects of back pain.

Otherwise the power of rest and recuperation should never be underestimated when you’re recovering from back spasms, although avoid the temptation of complete bed rest as (in most cases) this is rarely needed and can be counter-productive. Elsewhere it’s vital that you keep hydrated as a large number of sufferers of back spasms aren’t privy to the underlying fact that the onset of this condition has been linked to dehydration. Therefore increasing fluid intakes (including considering the merits of an electrolyte drink to top up your hydration levels) are something you should be mindful of.

What about exercises I could perform to discourage back spasms?

Yes we can. Although we’d always recommend that you speak with your GP/physiotherapist before performing ANY exercises which are designed to counter the adverse effects of physical aches and pains. The same rule of thumb obviously applies to exercises tailored specifically to alleviate the pain and/or avoid the onset of back spasms.

We’d also like to point out that there are a number of exercises that can be undertaken to address back spasms, yet hereabouts we’re concentrating on one of the most popular versions. And one which aims to relieve the flexibility, tightness and imbalance issues in the lumbar spine and muscles of the lower back.

The Seated Twist – This is a great exercise to help reduce the pain more normally associated with back spasms, whereby the physical objective is to encourage the rotation of both the upper and lower area of your back (focusing on hip mobility and flexibility).

Alongside this it targets the stretching of the notoriously tight lower back muscles (for mobility, reduces stiffness), the strengthening of the deep muscles of the spine and back (reduces low back stiffness) and the strengthening of the abdominals (reduces excessive anterior pelvic tilt, preserves neutral position).

  • Step 1 – Sit comfortably with knees together and upright
  • Step 2 – With one hand beside you (and the other behind you), gently rotate your upper body to the side as far and as comfortably as possible
  • Step 3 – Hold for 1 minute and rest
  • Step 4 – Repeat by twisting in the opposite direction
  • Step 5 – Repeat, often

Note:  When you are in the hold position, your upper body will respond faster than your lower back.  Maintain the hold for a long period of time initially so that the lower back muscles will have the window of opportunity to respond.  The goal is to relax into a hold and not to force a turn.

Tip:  When you can perform this exercise easily, do it unassisted without your hands; thus allowing you to recruit (and strengthen) the core back muscles to actively control your rotational flexibility instead of passively.

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