If you’ve ever suffered from back muscle spasms, you know that the pain can get pretty intense. It can cause you to either curl up in the fetal position like a baby looking for comfort or stretch like a contortionist to try to relieve the agony that you feel – if only for a moment.
It is estimated by many health professionals that approximately 80% percent of the population has some sort of back related issue. They can range from relatively minor problems that cause mild discomfort to extremely painful back conditions (such as bulging or blown disks) that require major surgery in an effort to either fix them or relieve the pain.
Luckily, back muscle spasms are at the less intense (and less debilitating) end of the spectrum and are generally fairly easy to treat. Also, you have several different options from which to try so that you can get the relief you want (and deserve) quite quickly.
Of course, it is always best to get the advice of your doctor before engaging in any self-prescribed treatment regimen. With that in mind, his or her recommendation may include one or more of the following:
Rest Your Back
Any time you suffer from back pain, or any pain for that matter, it is usually best to let the area rest. So, if you’re a believer in “no pain, no gain,” it’s time to lose that mentality. Overdoing it isn’t going to help your spasms, and will likely only increase the inflammation and tension, making the matter worse.
At a minimum, you’re going to want to avoid any activity that overuses the muscles that are prone to the spasms. This may mean that you take a break from golfing, playing ball, swimming or kayaking.
You’ll also want to adjust your workout schedule to give your back a rest until it feels better. Skip high intensity strength training exercises that work your upper or lower back and focus on other areas of your body instead.
However, keep in mind that you use your core muscles (such as those in your back) for many different exercises, so you may need to limit or completely stop some other movements that are directed toward other muscle groups until the spasms subside.
Ideally, if you can, spend some time to let your body relax thoroughly. If you have a physically demanding job, maybe you could take one or two days off from work and not exert yourself in a manner that causes you pain or lengthens the healing process.
You’ll want to be careful that you don’t relax too much though as it’s best to use your back in some capacity so that it doesn’t stiffen up. Plus, lying around for extended periods will only delay the length of time that it takes for you (and your back) to get feeling better.
Ice the Tender Area
The general rule is to apply ice for 20 minutes and then remove it for 20 minutes in an effort to reduce the swelling and inflammation so that you heal more quickly. Continue with this alternating pattern to reduce the pain and promote healing within your muscles.
You can buy gel like cold compresses in most any pharmacy or health store that are soothing yet comfortable when placed on tender areas. However, if you don’t have one of these ready-made options in your freezer, you can always make your own.
A bag of peas works great as it conforms to the shape of your back and doesn’t have sharp or hard edges that may push into the muscles, making them feel even worse. You can also make your own ice pack by taking ice cubes and chopping them in a blender before sealing them in a plastic bag. Of course, if you have an ice dispenser in your refrigerator door that crushes ice, that is the best option yet.
Also, make sure to not put the cold compress directly on your muscles. Doing so puts you at risk for frostbite. Instead, place a towel or some other cloth between the pack and your back. You’ll still get the benefits of the cold, without any of the risk of other issues.
Some health professionals feel that heat is effective as well. If you don’t have access to a heating pad, you can make one by filling a sock with rice and tying it off. Place it in the microwave for 20-30 seconds and then put it on your back. You can also put a damp towel in the dryer until it is hot and apply that to offending area as well.
Sometimes it helps if you wear a back brace or some other device that keeps your muscles in place. The more support they have, the faster they’ll heal as you’ll have less of a risk of reinjuring them by moving the wrong way or overworking the sore area.
If you have medical insurance, your doctor may prescribe a belt, brace or other compression device that you either won’t have to pay for at all or will only have a small deductible. Obviously, this is best case scenario as some braces can be rather expensive.
However, if you don’t have insurance, you may be able to find lower cost items at some pharmacies or chemists. Also, second hand stores may sell braces that are no longer being used so you can often get decent merchandise at a drastically reduced price when taking this route.
Of course, you can always make your own compress too by using an elastic bandage to wrap around your mid-section for added support. It may be best to check with your doctor as to how to properly use it as a bandage that is too loose won’t help at all and one that is too tight could create even more problems.
Just as you’ll want to limit your rest so that your back muscles will acclimate to everyday activities, you’ll want to keep the same philosophy with compression. If you support your muscles for too long, they’ll begin to lose their tone and won’t perform their function to the best of their ability. So, wrap them when necessary, but use them when you can.
Stretch Your Muscles
When your muscle spasms and it is continuously contracting, stretching it may be enough to get it to relax to the point where the pain subsides, if not goes away completely (which is the ultimate goal).The key to proper stretching is to use slow and controlled movements.
You don’t want to bounce when you stretch as you risk aggravating the muscles that are causing you so much pain. And, you don’t want to make them worse, right?
Therefore, you’ll want to ease into the stretches nice and slowly, stopping at the point when you feel slight discomfort, but not pain. Hold the stretch for 8-10 seconds before slowly easing back out of it. Doing this will get your muscles to release their contraction and relax a bit, resulting in the spasms doing the same.
Strengthen Your Core
The more conditioned your muscle structure, the less likely it is that you’ll have to worry about spasms at all. Your muscles will be able to handle the demands that you place on them without causing them to rebel and cause you unnecessary pain.
The main muscles you’ll want to focus on are your back, of course. Not only your lower back, but your middle and upper back too. There are numerous different muscles that span across your back vertically, horizontally and diagonally, so you’ll want to hit as many as you can when you’re engaged in strength training.
However, you’re going to want to strengthen your abdominal muscles too. They help balance the strength that you have in your back and work to protect your body by keeping it in proper form. Thus, it is better able to handle the activities you engage in both out of necessity and just for sport.
Ideally, you’ll want to engage in strength training 2-4 times per week. Each session should be approximately 30-45 minutes in length. You’ll want to work as many muscle groups in your body as you can and build them so they are big and strong.
Make sure you use proper form when doing these types of exercises to minimize your risk of injury. If you’re unsure what to do or how to do it, it may be worth the cost to hire a personal trainer. Even if you only use him or her for one session, at least you’ll learn the right way to work your body for the best results.
Go to a Chiropractor
Oftentimes, the first doctor that comes to mind when someone mentions “back pain” is a chiropractor. He or she can help you put your back in place so that it relieve some of your problems and gets your body back on a healing track.
When your spine isn’t aligned as it should be, not only can it incite spasms, but it also creates a world of other problems. For instance, it can shut off nerves that affect your respiratory, circulatory, reproductive and digestive systems. So, not only can you get rid of back spasms by going to this type of doctor regularly, but you can also deal with a host of other problems.
Some people don’t believe in chiropractic care, and yet others find it as important as going for your routine dental visits. Your body operates best when it is in proper form, and your chiropractor can make sure that is what you have when it comes to your spine.
Initially, you may have to go a few times a week to start to get your spinal column back into place. And, it will likely make you sore as your muscles start to lengthen and are forced to respond to the manipulation. However, over time your visits will become fewer and further in between as your body gets used to its new form and learns how to support itself without being forced to at someone else’s hand.
Get Adequate Sleep
Your body heals best when it is at rest. And, you’re most at rest when you’re off in dreamland without a care in the world. Therefore, if you don’t get adequate sleep on a regular basis, you’re likely prolonging the healing of the spasms and suffering more than you should.
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep on most nights. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time (weekends included) so that your body gets on a schedule. Also, keep the room as dark as possible by using blackened curtains and turning the alarm clock display away from your face so that your internal clock doesn’t register it as a form of light.
If you have problems getting to sleep, try a soothing cup of tea or a nice warm bath. Limit your exposure to aggressive television, video games or computer screens within a couple hours of bedtime. The more relaxed you are, the easier time you will have nodding off after your head hits the pillow.
Although it may seem counterproductive to tie your body into the shape of a pretzel, the stretching and toning that yoga participants enjoy may be just what you need to either prevent or heal back muscle spasms. In fact, yoga has been found to be one of the most beneficial exercises when it comes to your back in general.
Part of the reason may be due to the fact that it lengthens your muscles and makes them suppler, thereby reducing the chance of painful muscle spasms. Also, it keeps you and your body in shape with a strong core that isn’t likely to give way to any back problems whatsoever – spasms included.
There are a few different medications that you can take to reduce the inflammation. These include ibuprofens such as Motrin and acetaminophen like Tylenol.You can obtain them over the counter (usually in 200 mg capsules) or some doctors will prescribe them if they want you to have them in higher strengths.
If your pain is constant or extremely intense, your doctor may prescribe you muscle relaxers. These will help relieve the strain that is causing the pain and allow your muscles to relax in a manner that begins the healing process.
While some people prefer to have help via these kind of pharmaceuticals, others aren’t so keen on them as they do have side effects. They may make you drowsy, which may not make them possible to take during the work day. And, they may make you feel funny, leaving you unable to drive or participate in life in any useful format.
These are very individual as some people think they work wonders and other people would rather deal with the pain than the effects of the medication. It’s all up to you and what your body (and mind) can take.
One word of caution is that some prescription medications can become addictive. Therefore, these should be looked at as a temporary solution and not some form of treatment that you can expect to use long term. Use them with great care and consult with your doctor if you feel like you’re starting to depend on them more than what you should.
Another form of treatment available for muscle spasms are botulinum toxin injections (BoNT). Apparently, they paralyze the muscles which relieve them from their spasms. However, their results are in question.
One study published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health points to several different pieces of research regarding the injections and their effectiveness. What they found is that “(t)here is low quality evidence that BoNT injections improved pain, function, or both better than saline injections and very low quality evidence that they were better than acupuncture or steroid injections.”
However, some doctors still feel that they’re beneficial. This is likely a case where it may work for some, but not for others.The only way you know if it is for you is to try it.
When it comes to back muscle spasms, you have many alternatives other than just living with the pain. Some you can do at home on your own, such as icing the affected area, resting so you don’t overdo it and make it worse, and compressing it until the pain subsides enough to allow you reasonable movement. However, you can also make sure you get adequate sleep, enough exercise (via strength training and yoga) and take an over the counter anti-inflammatory medicine to help ease the pain and inflammation.
You can also go to a chiropractor to help get your back healthy and, if you do seek medical care, your doctor could also prescribe you muscle relaxers or give you injections to speed up the healing process. This will provide you some pain management in the meantime.
There are many options when it comes to back spasms and staying in agony doesn’t have to be one of them.