Back Spasms

What are ‘Back Spasms’? A back spasm “is the involuntary contraction or tensing of the muscles in the lower back”. Back spasms can be a result of injuries to muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the back or they can be related to more serious medical conditions-therefore, it important that you are taking care of your body. Lifting heavy objects are a common cause of back spasms as are sports injuries such as pulling a muscle from a race or from making a pass with improper form.

With acute back pain, the back seems to develop a mind of its own as the muscles jump on guard to protect a sore section of the spine. This is known as ‘protective muscle spasm’. It is not quite the same as ‘back spasms’.back spasms

When an area of the spine has been hurt, the nearby muscles adopt a protective, low grade clench as a temporary measure to splint the part and take it temporarily out of action. The aim of this is to give the damaged soft-tissue structures time to heal. Usually, this automatic mechanism works well; in a few days the stiffness and soreness passes and you are back to normal. But sometimes, the protective clench goes overboard with enthusiasm. This usually happens because you are too wary; too protective of your back; because you are frightened of it, or you’ve been told by well-meaning folk to be ultra-careful with it! This over-dwelling on it, or over-cautiousness, can allow the protective muscle hold to keep on keeping on, well beyond its usefulness date. Back spasms start striking as if the back muscles have developed a mind of their own.

The back spasms are the obvious outward sign of a back in crisis but there are less obvious ill-effects going on inside that are all to do with the excessive spinal compression. Apart from these frighteningly painful back twinges the spinal muscles themselves feel sore and achy, while at the same time, the heightened clench of the muscles increases spinal compression which creates more invisible mischief of the biosynthetic processes going on inside the discs themselves.

Spinal compression (or loading) causes the slow death of discs whose viability is borderline, even at the best of times. With years of not moving properly, sitting bolt upright (because you feel you’re doing the right thing), never bending if you can avoid it allows the muscle to stay clenched and steadily makes the back worse. On the other hand, moving freely, forging through and making your back do things, even when it feels stiff, is the best thing you can do for it.

Back muscle spasms can be triggered by wide range of issues, from muscle, tendon, or ligament injuries to more serious medical conditions.

  • Overtired, overstretched, and overworked muscles
  • Muscles held in the same position for a long period
  • Excessive strain due to heavy lifting
  • Activities that demand the back turn suddenly and repeatedly, for example like playing golf.


Sometimes back muscle spasms and cramps can signal there is an underlying anatomical problem in the spine. More serious spinal conditions can cause inflammation of the surrounding soft tissues which can trigger muscles to cramp or spasm. Examples of these more serious conditions causing spasms include:


The best treatment of muscle spasms is prevention. Proper hydration and nutrition play a big part in prevention. Maintaining a regular intake of water and incorporating more foods high in magnesium and calcium helps your body manage a good electrolyte balance to help stop cramps before they start.

Stretching before activities also benefits the muscles and may minimize spasms. While there is no one exact cause of muscle spasms, some researchers believe that “a regular program of stretching lengthens muscle fibers so they can contract and tighten more vigorously when you exercise.”

If you are already experiencing muscle spasms, immediate gentle stretching can help to break the spasm cycle. Using a cold compress for the first 72 hours will reduce swelling. Applying heat after 72 hours will help the muscles repair and release tension.

Continue with normal daily activity as much as possible. Bed rest can make your muscles stiff, causing more pain. Massaging the area or taking an Epsom salt bath can also help to relieve the tension from a muscle spasm.

Back Spasms can occur at any time because the muscles located in your back are more susceptible to injury. A very important habit be sure to practice while exercising is stretching all of your muscles before using them- this is to prevent pulling any muscles that would cause back spasms. Now, if this doesn’t really help, you can call your local spine specialist and ask about more information in regards to back spasms, how to prevent them, what to do to ease the pain, and what to do if the pain does not resolve itself. Usually low back pain caused by any strain or injury resolves itself in 3-6 weeks. So, if you have been experiencing this pain for more than 6 weeks, you should seek medical advice.

Along with what causes these spasms, it is important to know who is at greater risk of experiencing back spasms. People with:

  • Back weakness
  • Lordosis
  • Tight hamstrings
  • Weak spine muscles
  • Weak stomach muscles
  • Dehydration/electrolyte imbalance


Usually, spasms prey on the muscles in the lower back, rather than the upper regions of the torso. The origins of back spasms are diverse, but it is clear that they are often a response to an injury or inflammation of the spinal region. In many cases, the muscles of the back themselves are injured or inflamed, but the spine itself, including the thin cartilaginous discs between the spinal vertebrae and the ligaments which connect the vertebrae, may also be the source of the difficulty. Some back-spasm experts believe that spasms are a reaction by which the body attempts to immobilize the spine and thus prevent further injury.

back spasmNaturally, the injuries that produce back spasms might be caused by ‘overuse’ (chronic muscular exertion without adequate recovery) or by a single, traumatic incident. In the case of overuse, repeated rotational movements of the spine, such as the swinging motions required for baseball, cricket, tennis, squash, handball, racquetball, or golf, may eventually lead to an injury or inflammation of the vertebrae, spinal discs, ligaments of the spine, or spinal muscles themselves, particularly in individuals whose lower back muscles are functionally weak.

Anecdotally, it appears that back spasm may result from prolonged sitting or standing, especially if poor posture is utilized. If the spine is allowed to ‘sag’ forward near the hips during prolonged standing, increased strain is placed on the lower back muscles. Similarly, if one slouches while sitting, increased force is placed on the spine in a front-to-back direction, requiring the muscles of the low back to work extra hard to maintain spinal stability.

Scientific investigations have noted that back spasms are linked with prolonged and/or excessive flexion of the back. Research reveals that in vulnerable individuals just 20 minutes of significant anterior flexion of the back can produce spasms which are not resolved after as much as seven hours of complete rest of the back muscles.

The main symptoms of back spasms include severe pain emanating from the back in the absence of motion, significant discomfort in the back upon movement of the legs or arms, and/or pain associated with rotation of the spine. Such symptoms are usually accompanied by a sensation of a lack of mobility of the spine. The discomfort and feeling of immobility may last from a few seconds up to several minutes, go away, and then return again after a brief respite. Spasms which appear suddenly during activity may disappear when a resting position is assumed; anecdotally, lying down seems to be more relieving than sitting. Subsequent movement, however, may cause the spasms to return.

An occasional spasm in your back – without any other indication of back pain – may be a warning signal that you have a muscular imbalance or that you have a ‘below-the-radar-screen’ injury to your back. In either case, you should exercise great care with your back, attempting to avoid situations in which the back is placed under great strain, and you should also begin to carry out strengthening exercises for your back (see below). Naturally, if your back spasms occur relatively often, you should pay a visit to New York Spine Specialist. If the symptoms of back spasm are of sudden onset, which is often the case, he/she will want to know if a traumatic incident caused the initiation of symptoms. He/she should also ask questions about your training practices, including whether you embarked on a new mode of training prior to the development of back trouble.

The knowledgeable patient care staff and physicians at New York Spine Specialists will want to examine your injured area and perhaps even recommend interventional pain management treatment of your spine, legs, and/or arms to determine the external forces and body positions which produce symptoms. You might be required to perform certain movements and describe symptoms that occur during such motions. In addition, x-rays or other imaging techniques, such as CAT scans, bone scans, or magnetic-resonance-imaging procedures (MRIs), might be necessary to identify or rule out injury to the spinal vertebrae or the cartilaginous discs between vertebrae.

If you have been unfortunate enough to injure your back, one of the first things you should do is apply ice to the injury site. You should keep the ice on the site of injury for about 12 minutes at a time, with 20-minute recoveries between applications.

Back spasms can sometimes be linked with a chronically maintained body position – for example, if you spend large amounts of time with your back in a rigid, slightly flexed position.

Ordinarily, the duration of back spasms depends on the severity of the injury, the amount of inflammation at the site of injury, and of course the success of the rehabilitation program. Always bear in mind that you should be symptom-free before you return to full participation in your sport. This means that you should be able to perform all the skills and basic movements of your activity with no significant pain before you decide to return. Obviously, a too-early return to activity can lead to re-injury and an intensification of back spasms. Nonetheless, a successful return can sometimes be accomplished in a couple of days. However, in instances where inflammation is great, with possible involvement of lower back ligaments or intervertebral discs, weeks may pass before safe return to activity is advised.

In some cases, back spasms can be linked with a chronically maintained body position; for example, if you spend large amounts of time sitting with your back in a rigid, slightly flexed position, you are probably at increased risk for spasms. In such cases, the risk of spasm occurrence can probably be lowered by frequent changes in body position and periodic stretching of the back muscles.

It is important to note that these people are at a greater risk and should do all they can to prevent going through this pain. It is extremely important to let your doctor know the pain you experience and what caused you experience it.

We at New York Spine Specialist pride ourselves in providing our patients with the right plan for your condition. To book an appointment, please call 516-355-0111.