Low back pain sometimes strikes without us recalling any incident that could have lead to trauma or injury. It could be triggered by a simple action like bending over to pick up something or to lift something heavy, the next thing you know you cannot move properly due to pain. Sudden onset of muscle spasm in the low back is surprisingly common. Generally speaking, the cause of low back pain and muscle spasm can be attributed to overuse, an accident or a sports injury. But more often than not, the root cause of muscle spasm is a consequence of injury to a structure within the lumbar spine. The muscles in the low back work in conjunction with the abdominal musculature. Without them, extension and lateral movement of the spinal column would be impossible. Back muscles also add stability by keeping the spine straight and maintaining balance. That balance can be compromised when the muscles are in spasm, as a secondary response to even a somewhat injured lumbar joint or disc.
What are muscle spasms?
Muscle spasm is an involuntary contraction of a muscle that can cause a great deal of pain. When the facet joints of the spine become injured or inflamed, the muscles supporting the spine can spasm, causing low back pain and limitation range of motion.
Muscle spasm is typically treated conservatively with muscle relaxants and exercise therapy. Muscle relaxants inhibit painful contractions by sedating the muscle, while exercise stretches the muscles so they are less likely to strain, tear or spasm.
Muscles can become too tight due to lack of exercise, too much exercise, structural imbalances, dehydration and electrolyte loss. When muscular imbalances become chronic unusual forces are transmitted to the spine. Consequently, one movement outside of the normal can trigger an injury to a spinal joint, ligament, or disc resulting in spasm and back pain. Muscle spasm in the low back is exceedingly painful and often debilitating over the short-term. Here are several remedies that can help you get moving again.
Treatment for muscle spasm
- Stop your activity.
At the first sign of a muscle spasm you need to prevent doing the particular activity that caused it, even if the symptoms are minimal.
- Cold application.
By applying cold treatment initially, it will help to minimize the swelling. Cold application is usually effective after the first occurrence of spasm, you can use ice wrap in a towel, cold packs or a pack of frozen peas. Apply an ice pack to the painful area for about 15 minutes and do this every 2 hours for the first day or two.
- Heat application
Moist heat is ideal. Heat will help relax tensed muscles. Application of heat should be done after cold application. Apply moist heat to the painful area for about 15 minutes and do this every 4 hours until spasm subsides.
Take two to three days’ rest especially if your back spasm is due to muscle injury. Resting is important, as this will help muscle injury to heal faster. However, it is necessary to maintain some mobility during this time. I’ve seen some patients developed tightening or increased stiffness for being immobile. To avoid this problem, try slow gentle walking a couple minutes several times a day if pain allows you.
Low Back Spasm Prevention Once the back spasm episode has passed, and you’ve allowed enough time for the inflammation to subside, start focusing on what you can do to prevent it from happening again.
- Start stretching: Incorporate stretching exercises into your daily routine. Muscle fibers benefit from gentle stretching.
- Get in shape: If you don’t engage in regular physical activity, now is the time to start. Exercise confers benefits too numerous to mention and too important to ignore. Join a gym. Start playing a sport. The key to any exercise routine is that it be done consistently.
- Strength training: Always an important part of any exercise regimen, strength training not only builds muscle, it can reduce muscular imbalances. Remember: muscles work in opposition to each other, so be sure to balance out your back strengthening routine with abdominal work.
Make avoiding another episode of muscle spasm in the back a priority. It’s never too late to start increasing your strength and flexibility. Choose activities that you enjoy and commit to doing them on a regular basis.