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What Are Back Spasms?

Swollen muscles can lead to painful back spasms.
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  • Written By: Madeleine A.
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 13 July 2014
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Back spasms are spontaneous contractions of back muscles that are abnormal in nature. When they occur near nerve roots or the spinal cord, back spasms can be extremely painful. When these muscle contractions occur, the patient often experiences sudden pain when twisting, pulling, or pushing. Initially, people may find it possible to continue functioning, however, after a few hours, the back pain will become more severe, inhibiting any movement or activity. Usually, the patient will need to lie still to avoid any exacerbation of back pain.

Generally, back spasms occur when muscles are tender, swollen, or inflamed. Any intense force can tear tendons and muscles in the lower back and contribute to contractions and spasms. This is commonly seen in sports such as baseball, football, and golf, which require sudden back twisting, pushing, and pulling. In addition, the incidence of back spasm increases when people have arthritis, disk rupture, and a pelvis that is tipped forward. Sometimes, stomach muscles that are weak, and weakened spinal muscles can cause upper and lower back pain and spasms. Sometimes, the cause of back spasms are idiopathic, meaning that no known cause or explanation can be identified.

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Typically, diagnosis of back spasms can be made after the physician takes a medical history and conducts a physical examination. The exam generally shows tenderness where the spasm is located. In addition, the physician will observe for pain upon movement, especially when the patient bends forward. The doctor may also examine the area for swelling, warmth and redness, which may occur from injury of surrounding tissues, muscles and tendons.

Frequently, treatment for back spasms include ice, rest, and compression. In most cases, ice packs decrease swelling, which often contributes to pain. In addition, ice may help prevent additional muscle contractions and spasms. Resting helps the injury to heal while keeping the patient comfortable because movement often worsens the pain. Many times, doctors will recommend the patient wear a compression device such as an elastic garment or bandage around his back to limit movement and provide support.

Although treatment for back pain using non-medication remedies can be very effective in reducing pain, the patient with back spasms often needs medication as well. Typical medications used for back pain and spasm include anti-inflammatory medications and muscle relaxants. Generally, anti-inflammatory medications reduce swelling and resultant pain, while muscle relaxant medications help lessen the incidence of muscle contractions. Sometimes, when conventional treatments are ineffective, the physician may refer the patient to another doctor who specializes in orthopedics or neurology for further evaluation and treatment.

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Discuss this Article

fBoyle
Post 3

@ddljohn-- Spinal stenosis can cause severe back spasms too. My grandfather has this condition. This is when the spine becomes narrow and restricted. The nerves get pinched and it causes spasms.

ddljohn
Post 2

@turquoise-- What was your doctor's diagnosis when you had the injury?

There is definitely a problem there if you have chronic back spasms like that. I suggest you go back to your doctor and have them do an MRI on your back to see what's going on.

I experience back spasms from time to time due to a hernia. I am going to physical therapy which has helped a lot. My doctor said that the spasms will eventually stop when I have strengthened my back muscles. You might be experiencing something similar.

turquoise
Post 1

I injured my back several years ago. Ever once in a while, my back is aggravated by activity and I experience extremely painful back spasms.

The last two times, pain-relievers weren't enough and I had to have muscle-relaxers injected into my back to stop the spasms.

I'm fine now but I'm scared that it's going to happen again soon. Isn't there a way to relieve back spasms permanently? Do I have to keep going through this?

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