Back Spasms

Back spasms occur as reflex contractions in the back’s muscles, specifically those in the lower back. Muscle spasm and severe pain can occur due to irritation or injury of the nerves, ligaments or muscles in the back. Most people who suffer from back spasms feel a severe muscle pain and tightening as well as a palpable tension or a knot. In most cases these reflexive muscle contractions will happen right after an injury occurs but sometimes they may not happen for hours or days.


Causes and Symptoms of Back Spasms

Causes and Risk Factors

Most of the time, a back spasm will occur because the muscle is strained or swollen, tender and inflamed. Any force that is strong will be able to tear the tendons and muscles in the lower back. It is commonly caused by certain sports that involve pulling, pushing or sudden twisting motions such as golf, baseball, basketball, football and weight lifting.

Certain people have a higher risk of experiencing back spasms. These risk factors include weak stomach muscles, if the muscles on the spine are weak or inflexible, tight hamstrings, lordosis, back weaknesses (including a tumor, spinal stenosis, disk rupture, spondylolisthesis, spondylolysis and arthritis) or a pelvis which tilts abnormally forward.


The symptoms of back spasms include sudden pain, particularly in the lower back, when pulling, pushing or twisting. Some people who experience back spasms can continue what they are doing but after several hours, this is no longer possible because the bleeding of the muscles will stretch the torn tendons and muscles. In most cases, people experiencing back spasms will be most comfortable lying down with their knees curled in and spine arched.

Treatments for Back Spasms

1. Stopping Activities

Even if you feel that your back spasm isn’t severe, it is important to immediately stop whatever activity caused it. You can rub or massage the area to get relief.

2. Rest

Rest is crucial to help your muscle injury heal more quickly. If muscle injury caused the back spasm you need to rest for two or three days. While resting, be sure to maintain some mobility such as walking slowly and gently. If you do not, your muscles may become stiff or tightened. When moving, however, it is important to avoid bending or twisting your trunk as this will increase the spasms.

3. Cold Compress

When you experience an injury, you may have increased blood flow or swelling which lead to pain. Applying a cold compress can relieve these symptoms the first time you have a spasm, but for future ones, you should try heat before cold. Apply the ice for around 15 minutes every two hours during the first day.

4. Heat Compress

All types of heat can relieve pain, but for best results try using a moist heat. The heat will relax the tensed muscles and you should always do this after applying a cold compress. If you don’t want to go out and buy an electric moist heating pad at your local store, you can try using a warm water bowel or a towel that was soaked in hot water. It can also help to take a warm shower or bath. You should apply the moist heat for around 15 minutes every four hours until your back spasms die down.

It is important to note that some people find that applying heat increases their pain and if this happens to you, stop this method immediately and only use cold compresses.

5. Leg Elevating

Most people who experience back spasms have a very hard time getting comfortable. Certain positions tend to provide more relief than others so here are some ones that may help you, all of which involve elevating your legs:

6. Relaxation Technique

Most people suffering from back spasms find it very difficult to relax but certain techniques can be truly effective in fighting the pain associated with back spasms. When you are able to distract yourself by thinking of something else (or erasing all thought) you will be able to relax and breathe better and this in turn will reduce the tightness of your muscles and decrease your pain. Some great ways to distract your mind including talking to a loved one, watching a TV show, reading and meditation.

7. Mild Exercise

You should never do exercises when your back spasms start but once the cramping becomes minimal and the pain lessons, you can try these exercises.

8. Pain Killers

If the other methods don’t work, you can try taking NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) which are available both over the counter and in prescriptions. You can also try taking muscle relaxers but never drive while on them.

9. Physical Therapy

You can also try visiting a physical therapist or chiropractor. They will use muscle release techniques, ultrasound and heat to reduce the spasms. They will then move on to provide you with safe exercises that can increase your flexibility and strengthen your muscles.


Cortisone injections can give relief for several months and this is especially true when the spasms cause pain in the legs.

When to See a Doctor

You should go to the doctor if:

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