Back spasms are spontaneous contractions of the back muscles that are abnormal in nature. When they occur near the nerve roots or spinal cord, back spasms can be extremely painful. When these muscle contractions occur, the patient often feels sudden pain when twisting, pulling, or pushing. Initially, people may find it possible to continue to function, however, after a few hours, the back pain will become more intense, inhibiting any movement or activity. The patient will usually need to stay still to avoid any exacerbation of back pain.
In general, 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 like baseball, football, and golf, which require sudden twists, jerks, and pulls. Also, the incidence of back spasms increases when people have arthritis, a ruptured disc, and a pelvis that tilts forward. Sometimes weak stomach muscles and weakened spinal muscles can cause pain and spasms in your upper and lower back. Sometimes the cause of back spasms is idiopathic, meaning that no known cause or explanation can be identified.
A diagnosis of back spasms can usually be made after a doctor takes a medical history and performs a physical exam. The exam usually shows tenderness where the spasm is located. Also, the doctor will notice pain when moving, especially when the patient leans forward. The doctor may also examine the area for swelling, heat, and redness, which can occur due to injury to the surrounding tissues, muscles, and tendons.
Treatment for back spasms usually includes ice, rest, and compression. In most cases, ice packs decrease swelling, which often contributes to pain. Additionally, ice can help prevent further muscle contractions and spasms. Resting helps to heal the injury, keeping the patient comfortable, because movement often makes the pain worse. Doctors often recommend that the patient wear a compression device, such as an elastic band or back bandage, to limit movement and provide support.
While treating back pain using non-drug remedies can be very effective in reducing pain, the patient with back spasm often also needs medication. Typical medications used for back pain and spasm include anti-inflammatory medications and muscle relaxants. In general, anti-inflammatory medications reduce swelling and the resulting pain, while muscle relaxant medications help decrease the incidence of muscle contractions. Sometimes, when conventional treatments are not effective, the doctor may refer the patient to another doctor who specializes in orthopedics or neurology for further evaluation and treatment.