Top Exercises for Upper and Lower Back Muscle Spasms
Back muscle spasms can wreak havoc on your world. They can cause you tremendous pain and suffering, as well as interfere with your daily life. If they’re mild, they may cause you just enough discomfort to decrease your enjoyment in normally pleasurable activities. And, if they’re strong and intense, they can keep you from performing at work or attending important family functions.
Therefore, the sooner you get them under control, the better. One way to do this is via exercise. No, you don’t have to go out and run a marathon or compete in a Strong Man (or Woman) competition to get relief. But, there are a few things you can do to ease your pain.
Think of these exercises not as just a way to resolve the back muscle spasms that you’re having, but also as a way to prevent them in the future. The stronger your core, the less likely it is that you’ll get spasms to begin with. Therefore, you can use the same workout for spasm prevention and treatment as they serve this dual effect.
One important thing to note is that if any of these exercises aggravates the pain and makes it more intense, stop it immediately. You want to be extremely careful to not make the spasms worse and, although these are meant to alleviate the pain you feel, sometimes there is more going on with you than just spasms and it may require medical intervention to come up with an appropriate solution.
With that thought in mind, here are the top 10 exercises for upper and lower back muscle spasms that you may want to add to your workout routine for optimum back health:
#1: Pelvic Tilt
This stretch in particular will help ease your back pain and make daily activities much easier in the process. It not only releases the muscles in your lower back, but it also engages your glutes (your butt muscles) which tones them and makes them stronger and more able to support better posture and form – resulting in fewer injuries in the future.
To perform the pelvic tilt, lie on your back either on the carpet or on an exercise mat. Bend your knees, keeping them about a fist width apart and place the soles of your feet on the floor, shoulder width apart. Put your hands down by your sides, palms facing down (they should be next to your buttocks).
Slowly, tilt your pelvis so that your lower back is flat against the floor, and then lift your hips off the floor all while keeping your pelvis titled downward. Squeeze your gluteal muscles and keep your hips raised as if there were a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold it for a count of four and then lower your hips back to the floor.
Ideally you’ll want to perform three sets of eight repetitions each (for a total of 24 exercises).
#2: Knee to Chest Stretches
Another stretch that will release the pressure in your lower back and ease spasms is one where you bring your knees to your chest. This elongates your back and allows it to lengthen the muscles that are the primary culprits when it comes to back pain and discomfort.
The knee to chest stretches are also performed while on your back on the floor. However, instead of bending your knees and putting the soles of your feet on the floor, you’ll want to keep your legs straight and extended.
Bend your right knee and grab just below it, as you pull your knee closer to your chest. Make sure the moves are slow and deliberate, stopping at the point where you can feel a slight pull in your lower back, but no pain. Release the knee and move your leg back to the floor.
Repeat this exercise with the other leg, being sure to bring it as close to your chest as you can. Finally, finish by bringing both knees up at the same time and holding them so that you can feel the stretch through your entire back region.
Go through this sequence of right leg, left leg and then both legs approximately 10 times for optimal lower back stretching.
#3: Standing Hamstring Stretch
Because tight hamstrings can aggravate your back and cause it to spasm, it’s important to keep them flexible and stretched too. Remember that the muscles in your body are interrelated so keeping them all in optimal health is important to your overall ability to function and live an active life.
When performing a standing hamstring stretch, you want to prop your right foot up on a chair or other piece of furniture or equipment that is around knee height, keeping your leg straight. Slowly bend forward, being sure to keep your hips aligned and facing forward.
Keep bending until you feel the stretch as it goes down the backside of your upper leg. Straighten back up and repeat the exercise on the left side. Do 10-12 repetitions per side for a proper hamstring stretch that may just eliminate lower back spasms.
#4: The Exaggerated Walk
Walking is a great activity for strengthening the lower back. So, exaggerated walking is even better when you’re trying to relieve the tension from muscles that are constricted, tense and in spasm mode. Plus, you can do it anywhere, making it a great exercise no matter where you are (work, home, running errands, etc.).
To exaggerate your walk, simply lift your knees higher than you normally would when you walk around. Be sure to keep your back straight so that you isolate the muscles that are giving you the most grief. This exercise is very easy to do and will usually relieve the cramping feeling quite quickly.
(You may get some funny looks if you’re out in public, but the release of pain will be worth it. Another positive is that no one will want to bother you as they’ll question your mental capacity. That means that you’ll be free to shop and run your errands without distraction – an added bonus.)
#5: Lower Back Extensions
To strengthen your lower back, thereby reducing spasms and other potential back problems, lower back extensions do the trick. You may have even heard of them before as they’re often called the “Superman” exercise.
Lie face down on the carpet or exercise pad. Your body will be straight and you can either keep your arms down at your sides (palms up), put your hands on the back of your head (as if you’re being arrested) or with your arms straight out at shoulder height (hence the name Superman, like when he is flying).
Slowly lift your upper body and feel the stretch in your entire back. Hold this for 4-6 seconds and lower back down to the floor. As with the previous stretches, make sure the motions are slow and controlled. You risk further injury if you bounce around and try to push the muscles too far, too fast.
Aim for 10-12 repetitions.
#6: Pillar Bridge
The pillar bridge, also known as the plank, strengthens almost every muscle in your core. This one exercise will give you a strong back and abdominal area to support your spine and keep your muscles and bones in place. This exercise is a great preventative, but shouldn’t be conducted if it aggravates your spasms and makes them worse.
Like with the lower back extension, you’ll start it by lying face down with your legs straight out. Put your forearms beneath your chest and lift your body. Keep your back straight so that your body is in a straight line from your shoulders to your feet.
Hold this pose for as long as you can. At first, you may only be able to go for a couple of seconds, but as you keep doing it, you’ll eventually get strong enough to stay in that position for a minute or more. It’s normal to shake slightly as you’ll be testing the strength of your muscles, causing them to break down and build stronger and bigger.
The more you strengthen your abdominal muscles, the better able they are to support your back, thereby reducing the spasms which are causing you pain. Think of it like this: if you work out your backside and not your front side, your body will be out of whack. This may cause you more problems than you already have, so you’ll want to work opposing muscle groups for even tone.
To begin the crunch, lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor. Put your hands behind your head, but be careful that you don’t use them to pull your head up as that will strain your neck. Also, be sure to keep your elbows out to your sides too.
Slowly lift your shoulders off the floor, engaging your abdominal muscles and using them to bring your upper body higher. Hold your shoulders approximately 4-6 inches off the floor and then slowly lower them back down. That is one repetition.
Depending on the strength of your abs, you may only be able to do a few of these before feeling as if your tummy is really burning. Eventually, try to work up to three sets of 8-12 repetitions.
Once you become more tone and fit in your belly area, you can do things to make these exercises harder and work your muscles even more. For instance, you can perform them on a balance ball or put weights on your chest so that it’s more difficult to lift your shoulder blades off the floor.
#8: Perform Foam Roller Exercises
Sometimes it helps to have props to relieve your muscles and ease their tension. A foam roller was designed to do just that. Here are four easy exercises that incorporate this valuable piece of equipment into your anti-back spasm routine:
- Sit on the roller and roll it down your back, from your mid-back, down to your hips. Keep your feet planted on the ground so that you don’t lose your balance.
- Sit so that you are leaning slightly back, with the roll against your butt and lower spine. Lower your upper body to the floor so that you’re lying on the roll as if it were a log in your way as you’re trying to sleep on your back.
- Lie on the roller so that it is positioned in the middle of your back. Roll on it as you did in exercise number one, but this time concentrate on your upper back (from your mid-back to your shoulder area). Be careful to not roll your neck area.
- Lie on the roller lengthwise and bring the arms out and to your side to stretch your shoulders back. Or, bring your arms closer to your side and rock back and forth, from side to side.
Aim for 1 to 1 ½ minutes per exercise so that you don’t overdo it and you’ll stretch both your upper and lower back muscles.
#9: Shoulder Blade Squeeze
This stretch is wonderful for easing upper back spasms as it targets the area between the shoulder blades, which can give you a lot of trouble when it is aching and contracting. Although it may feel sore to do it at first (especially if you spend a lot of time in front of a computer, hunched forward), eventually it will feel better as your body gets used to being opened up.
To perform the shoulder blade squeeze, either stand or sit and bring your arms up and to your sides at 45 degree angles. (Imagine it as the position that a gunman is in when he or she “freezes” for the police.)
Slowly move your arms back as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. It may make it easier if you picture trying to hold a pencil between them. Hold this for 3-4 seconds and then release.
Start by doing only this a few times, but eventually work your way up to 8-10 reps per day.
#10: Levator Scapulae Stretch
This stretch also works your upper back and eases not only spasms, but neck pain as well. It also works wonders for the person who finds themselves at a desk all day, with minimal neck movement.
To begin the levator scapulae stretch, sit in a chair and bend your head forward, as if to look down. Take your left hand and hold onto the seat of the chair. Use your right hand to place it at the upper back of your head and bend your head to the side, taking your right ear and pulling it toward your right shoulder. You should feel this stretch along the back and side of your neck.
Hold the stretch for 2-3 seconds and release it. Do 8-10 stretches and then switch to the other side, using your right hand to hold onto the chair seat (which keeps your shoulder down and elongates the stretch) and your left hand to gently pull your ear closer to your shoulder.
Tips to Remember
Whether you’re engaging in these exercises or any other movements that your doctor or chiropractor have given you to ease your upper or lower back spasms, there are some things you always need to remember. They include:
- Keep your movements slow and controlled. If they’re fast and jerky, you risk causing more harm than good to the very area you’re trying to help.
- Stop if you feel pain. Some discomfort is normal, especially when you first begin the exercises. However, if you ever feel actual pain, stop doing it immediately. Let your doctor know and see if you are either using improper form or if that particular exercise should be removed from your regimen.
- Take small steps. You probably want to feel better right away, so you may be inclined to try to do as many of these exercises as possible. However, you’re better off only doing a few and adding to the numbers every few days so that you don’t shock your body and cause it further damage.
- Repetition is the key. You can’t do these exercises once and think that you’re healed. You have to do them repeatedly if you want to keep your body in shape and your spasms to a minimum. Yes, it takes time to perform the, but the amount of pain and aggravation it will save you will be worth it.
- Engage in other healthy behaviors. Your body and muscles can only do as well as the fuel you put in them. So, if you want good physical results, you’re going to have to feed yourself premium foods. Aim for veggies, fruit, lean protein and complex carbohydrates. Try to stay away from processed foods and refined carbs. The less white sugar and flour you have, the better it is for you as a whole.
Remember that prevention is always easier than the cure. And, the more you take care of your back today, the more it will take care of you tomorrow.
No one wants to live their older years all hunched over and in pain because the spasms have gotten so severe. Perform these exercises regularly and you won’t have to.