They can come on abruptly and be short-lived, but lower back spasms are painful, and for many people, they can be chronic. About 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain in their lifetime, and for some, it will come in the form of lower back spasms.
A lower back spasm is an involuntary contraction of the muscles in the lower area of the back, near the nerve roots leading in and out of the spinal cord. It can be different for each person. Some experience mild, infrequent discomfort, while others are prone to severe pain that makes it very hard to move around. In some cases, the pain just goes away on its own, but there are situations where medical care is required.
What do lower back spasms feel like?
Having an aching back can be disruptive to both a person’s work and social life. So what do lower back spasms feel like? Depending on the cause, the sensation of a spasm can vary from mild to severe. It’s important to note that there are many possible lower back spasm symptoms, including those listed below.
- Hip or Buttock pain
- Muscle weakness or strain
- Curvature of the spine
- “Drop Foot” — a feeling of foot dragging on the ground
- Neck stiffness and pain
- Numbness or tingling in leg or buttock
- Shoulder or arm pain
- Stiffness in spine
Some people with lower back spasms also experience neurologic symptoms such as headaches (especially in the back of the head) or sciatica, which is a shooting pain down the back of one of the legs. Additionally, back spasms can be the sign of a more serious health condition. It is crucial to seek medical attention if you have abnormal sensations like weakness, numbness, or tingling on one side of the body, impaired balance, loss of bladder control, or loss of sensation in your limbs.
What causes lower back spasms?
Lower back spasms can simply be caused by a strain or injury to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. For instance, heavy lifting is a common cause. Sports such as football and golf can lead to spasms in the spine since they require a lot of sudden twisting and turning of the back. The back muscles are also vulnerable if you happen to have weak abdominal muscles.
Back problems can also be the result of medical conditions. For example, arthritis or a ruptured disk in the spine can lead to lower back pain. A ruptured or bulging disk in the vertebrae can put a lot of pressure on nerves, which leads to pain.
Here is a list of other underlying conditions that could cause lower back spasms:
- Facet joint osteoarthritis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spinal stenosis
- Herniated disc
In many of these situations, the body reacts with pain and inflammation. People often need medical attention not just to treat the pain, but also to address the underlying condition.
The most common cause of lower back spasms is, in fact, overexertion or straining the muscles. If you are active through sports, working out, or are doing a lot of heavy lifting, it is important to stay hydrated. People who are prone to muscle spasms are often not sufficiently hydrated.
Diagnosing lower back spasms
When you experience back pain, your doctor can often diagnose you simply by getting a good description of your symptoms. Upon visiting a physician, you should be ready to talk about the severity of pain, how often you experience flare-ups, what you have done to try to relieve the pain, what (if anything) works to relieve the pain, and of course, when the pain started. Your doctor may order an x-ray to determine if you have signs of arthritis or even bone fractures. An MRI can also be conducted and will give the doctor a better view of the muscles, soft tissues, disks, and blood supply to the lower back.
If you experience lower back spasms on a frequent basis, you should pay careful attention to the symptoms. Writing them down can be helpful. Having detailed information to share with the doctor can save time and prevent unnecessary tests.
How to get rid of lower back spasms?
While a spasm itself is a brief jolt of pain, the problem is that some people can have these spasms on and off for extended periods of time. If you are a sufferer, no doubt you feel desperate at times to get rid of the pain. Most people who have lower back spasms due to injury try alternating between an ice pack and heat. Ice helps reduce the inflammation and heat helps to improve the blood flow.
Unfortunately, there are those who don’t get any relief with ice and heat—they need a different muscle spasm treatment. Some may turn to medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, commonly referred to as NSAIDS. Muscle relaxants can also help relieve symptoms.
Alternative therapies such as chiropractic care and physiotherapy are other possible approaches. It is important to consult with a doctor and get a proper diagnosis before engaging in alternative treatment methods. You want to be sure that you aren’t further damaging your back. For instance, if the doctor deems your muscles are healthy enough, you should be able to participate in physical therapy.
Lower back spasms prevention tips
Our backs work hard, so the better we take care of them, the lower the risk we have of developing back problems. For many people, losing a few pounds, standing up straight, or wearing lower-heeled shoes can minimize stress on the back and keep it strong. Regular physical activity that strengthens both the back and abdomen will also keep us feeling good.
Here’s a look at some other lower back spasm prevention measures:
- If you have a history of sports injury, rest as opposed to moving through the spasm.
- Choose a bed or comfortable surface to remain immobile when spasms occur.
- Try slow, deep breaths to relax your muscles.
- Practice visualization techniques, such as imagining tight knots being unravele
- When stretching muscles, do it carefully and slowly.
- Alternate periods of stretching with rest. Don’t let muscles contract during rest.
- Try massage therapy, but avoid massaging on the muscle directly over the injury.
- Replenish nutrients. Low blood calcium, magnesium, and potassium are common in people who suffer from back spasms.
- Hydrate—drinking liquids can help you avoid spasms and recover quicker.
- Avoid spending a lot of time in bed or long periods of sitting.
If you have a history of spasms, learning proper techniques for stretching can be important, but only after getting the go-ahead from the doctor. Again, the cause of your back spasms will dictate the treatment. When stretching, the idea is to lengthen your muscle by using movement opposite to the contraction of the muscle. Some people find that lying on their side while crossing their arms as they hunch forward is really helpful. Gradually increasing the extension slightly is the best way to go. Over time, increasing the length of the muscle will decrease the amount of pain from that muscle. This will also lower the chances of future injury and spasms.
The back serves an important function. It gives us the ability to move, bend, and twist. When it is not working or is injured, our quality of life can deteriorate. For some people, back problems begin early in life, and some medical experts suggest this is because many people take their spines for granted. In other words, the majority of lower back problems can be prevented if we take good care of ourselves. Remember, incorrect movement, intense exercises, and bad posture can put unnecessary pressure on the back, which can lead to a back spasm. Some orthopedic specialists suggest that close to 90 percent of back problems are preventable.
Related: 6 things your muscles are trying to tell you