When the muscles in your lower back area involuntarily contract, you’ll experience a back spasm. If you’ve ever had a spasm while lifting something a little too heavy or straining your spine from an awkward twist or move, you know firsthand how painful it can be. The discomfort felt when muscle spasms occur can be mild or severe, and it’s not something that should be ignored, especially if back spasms are occurring on a regular basis. In fact, spasms often suggest something else is going on with the spine or its supporting muscles.
You Are Straining Your Lower Back Muscles
Heavy lifting is a common cause of back spasms. Pain of this nature means you are overstraining or overextending muscles around your spine. Muscle contractions like this are caused by soft tissues that are overworked. Constantly stressing lower back muscles can eventually turn strained muscles into torn muscles. The resulting inflammation could also affect joints and discs in your spine. Reduce back spasms caused by excessive muscle strain by:
- Listening to your body and resting when you start to feel strain in your lower back
- Modifying your activities to reduce stress on your lower back
- Staying hydrated to keep essential nutrients flowing to your spine and nearby soft tissues
- Doing proper stretches before exercising or participating in any type of activity likely to place stress on muscles near your spine
You Have an Underlying Problem Causing Back Spasms
If back spasms aren’t just an occasional annoyance, you may have an underlying anatomical problem that’s triggering muscle contractions. For instance, herniated or slipped discs can cause inflammation that triggers muscle spasms. Muscle contractions in response to inflammation and pain can also occur if you have a severe spinal fracture, damaged facet joints, or abnormally narrow parts of your spinal canal (spinal stenosis) where added pressure is being placed on nerves. Chronic conditions like arthritis can also contribute to back spasms.
Diagnosing and Treating Back Spasms
Your symptoms and the frequency of your back spasms provide important clues for your doctor when determining the source of your discomfort. Image testing is typically performed to identify possible underlying issues. MRI and CT scans offer detailed views of the spine and its related tissues. Manual muscle testing may also be done to test the strength of specific muscle groups to determine if weaknesses with these muscles may be contributing to your back spasms. While treatment recommendations will be based on the source of your muscle contractions, common options include:
- Ice therapy to reduce tissue swelling
- Muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medications
- Lumbar epidural steroid injections
- Chiropractic manipulations
- Treating the underlying source of pain (e.g. correcting a damaged disc, making efforts to manage arthritis better)
The most effective way to reduce the risk of unexpected muscle spasms is to keep your spine as healthy as possible, which means watching what you eat, getting regular exercise to strengthen core muscles, lifting with your hips rather than your knees, and paying attention to your posture. If you experience frequent back spasms or muscle contractions are accompanied by other symptoms such as radiating nerve pain, see a Santa Monica spine surgeon to determine what’s going on with your spine.
Severe chronic back pain sometimes requires surgery such as a kyphoplasty or lumbar laminectomy. Santa Monica residents who believe they might need surgery should reach out to Dr. Hyun Bae at The Spine Institute. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an in-person evaluation.