What Causes Spasms In Your Back Muscles?
Do you suffer from intense pain in your upper or lower back that can literally drop you to your knees? Is it affecting your quality of life and making it difficult to engage in work related functions and fun types of activities?
If you answered yes to either of these questions, you may be suffering from a medical condition commonly referred to as back muscle spasms.
What is a Back Muscle Spasm?
According to Cedars-Sanai, a non-profit hospital located in Los Angeles, California, a back spasm is defined as “a spontaneous, abnormal contraction of a muscle.” Generally, these contractions occur rather suddenly and they come from muscles that are strained or pulled. They happen when you have inflamed back muscles and/or ligaments that become swollen and tender, leaving you in pain that can range from slight discomfort across your entire back to deep, area specific agony.
It’s like being struck in the back with a taser gun. You feel an intense pain as your muscles contract beyond your control. They are tightened to the point where you’d be willing to do pretty much anything for relief. Essentially, that is how a back muscle spasm feels as that is precisely what happens to your muscle.
Some people may get a back spasm or two over the course of their life, and others are plagued with chronic and persistent twinges. Either way, it can definitely affect the quality of your life as each movement aggravates the area and can leave you wanting to do nothing more than lie in bed all day (which is certainly no way to live).
What Are the Symptoms?
As stated above, most back muscles spasms come on instantly and without warning. One minute you’re fine and the next you’re writhing in pain. However, some have a slower onset and start with a dull ache which leads into a pain that is fierce and in full force, but this is not as common.
In addition, back spasms generally subside rather quickly, meaning that they go away almost as suddenly as they came. You will feel a tightening of the upper or lower back area (and may even feel a bulge just below the skin when the muscle is in full contraction). You may even have the urge to stretch the muscle in an attempt to get it to release.
Often, spasms are precipitated by certain activities. Which leads us to the next section…
How Do You Get Them?
When it comes to your back, one of the most notable activity you can take part in that will put you at risk of injury is sports. So, it would only make sense that engaging sports related activities such as these would put you at greater risk of back muscle spasms as well.
It is the twisting and turning that forces the muscles in your back to tear. When this happens, they become strained and this is when the pain begins.
Think of athletic games such as American football, or soccer, which require quick movements and usually getting taken to the ground in positions that aren’t exactly meant for comfort. However, you could also get back spasms from the way you move your body while attempting to throw the ball. It requires much force and energy as you twist your torso, putting you at greater risk of injuring the muscles that run along your spine. The same is true for lacrosse, hockey and other similar sporting activities.
You’re not safe if you engage in solo sports either. If you’re an avid golfer, for instance, then you know that the position of your body, the rotation of your hips and the follow through of your swing are extremely important. Well, it is these types of movements that can seize up your back muscles and put you in a tremendous amount of pain.
Another potential cause of back spasms is weight lifting. Have you ever seen someone at a gym swinging their body as they lift the huge stack of weights, testing every ounce of strength in their body? Although it may look impressive, they’re actually risking this exact injury.
Most health experts recommend lifting any amount of weight with very slow and controlled movements. You can quite easily tear your muscles and do some major damage if you push them too far, too fast.
Also, if you have a physically demanding job that requires you to move around a lot, you are definitely at higher risk of suffering from back injuries in general. Some examples may include those that work in construction, professional dancers, and shelf stockers. Basically, if you either lift and move things, or constantly have to twist and turn your torso, you have a greater likelihood of suffering from back spasms at some point in your life.
Although you may try your best to be cautious and use proper form, it doesn’t always work out that way. If you have something on your mind and aren’t paying attention, for instance, you could undoubtedly move the wrong way and find yourself in extreme pain as a result.
Sometimes, even day to day activities can create painful spasms in your back. This would include doing things such as vacuuming, shoveling snow or engaging in yard work such as raking leaves or moving rocks. Essentially, it is anything that puts you in a position where you’re twisting and turning your body.
Think of how many times in a day you move your back without any conscious effort. Each one of these moments increases the likelihood that you’ll move in a way that could create a spasm. So, the more you do, the greater your risk.
However, sometimes back spasms aren’t movement related at all. According to an article posted on MedicineNet.com by Dr. Benjamin Wedro, you can also suffer from back spasms if you’re dehydrated or your electrolytes are off. This means that either you don’t drink enough water or you don’t replace the magnesium, sodium, potassium and other key nutrients that your body uses both during and after vigorous physical activity.
This is one of the reasons why so many health professionals stress the importance of hydrating your body if you regularly engage in hard workouts or if you have a job that requires you to strain yourself in hot and humid environments (such as construction or lawn maintenance). As you are made up primarily of water, you have to constantly replenish your supply if you want your body to function as intended.
A lot of professional athletes drink sports drinks that contain electrolytes or eat salty snacks when engaged in long bouts of intense exercise. They understand that the more you sweat, the more sodium your body loses. This can throw your system off enough to cause your muscles to contract and give you painful spasms that can leave you in tremendous pain.
Sitting in one position too long can also cause your back to spasm. The constant strain on your muscles caused by not moving them often enough can make your back muscles contract beyond your control. Essentially, your muscles become tired and weak and lose the ability to keep in place any longer.
So, if you work at a desk all day and don’t get breaks every so often, you may suffer from more back spasms than someone who is on their feet and moving about. Or, if you engage in hobbies that require you to remain in one position over a long period of time (such as painting model cars or sewing), your back may retaliate as your muscles aren’t being given any sort of relief via movement.
Poor posture can also work against you when it comes to the condition of your back. Although it may seem minor, the way you stand and sit has a huge impact on whether or not you’ll suffer from any back related injuries both now and well into the future.
When you have a posture that doesn’t support the natural curve of your spine and nervous system, you’re opening yourself up to spasms and a number of other health conditions. They include headaches, sinus problems, worsening allergies and asthma, and more.
In addition to all of the situations listed above, there are certain risk factors that have been associated with higher rates of back spasms. Some of these are beyond your control, but others are purely within your ability to change if you’d like to lower the chances of back spasms.
- Advanced age. Yes, back spasms are one medical condition that has a greater risk the older you are. Back issues in general are more prevalent in older people than in younger ones. Your muscles aren’t as strong as you age which opens you up to a number of different back related problems, spasms included.
- Poor levels of fitness. The more out of shape you are, the less able your body is to function efficiently and effectively. Therefore, you won’t have proper muscular or skeletal support when engaged in any sort of activity, putting you at risk of painful back contractions.
- Smoking. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, “Your body may not be able to get enough nutrients to the disks in your back if you smoke.” They go on to point out that smokers have a greater risk of back injuries due to the fact that they take longer to heal (not to mention the dreaded ‘smoker’s cough’ that can cause you pain and discomfort in your back over time).
- Back weakness. If you have ruptured or bulging disks, spinal tumors, arthritis or any other condition that makes your back weak in any respect, you have a higher likelihood of experiencing back spasms at some point in your life.
- Muscle weakness. In order for your spine to properly support your back and all of the muscles in it, it has to have a certain amount of strength. This means that if your muscles along your spinal column don’t give your spine the structure it needs to stay aligned, it cannot protect your body when you’re either working or playing in a way that involves lots of movement.
- Tight hamstrings. It’s easy to concentrate solely on your back and think that the problem has to be there since that is where the pain is. However, remember that your body is a complete connection of muscles and when one is too tight or weak, it can potentially affect the rest. Hamstrings (the muscles that run along the back of your upper leg, opposite from your thighs) are one such example. When they are too taut, you could find yourself suffering from spasms in your lower back.
- Forward pelvic tilt. If your pelvis is slightly tilted forward (as you’ll find in conditions such as lordosis, which is also called “swayback”), it puts you at greater risk of back muscles that contract uncontrollably. You can find out if this applies to you by asking your family doctor or chiropractor. Either one will be able to tell you as they’re both extremely educated when it comes to the bone and muscle structure in the human body – and, more specifically, your body.
- Systemic illnesses. People who suffer from diabetes and anemia, for instance, may have hormonal changes in their body that increase their risk of back related spasms. Also, individuals with multiple sclerosis or who have had a prior injury to their spinal cord have a higher risk too as their nervous system can impact whether the muscle spasms or not.
What Could You Be Doing That is Making Them Worse?
If you’ve ever had a muscle spasm in your back, then you know what it feels like to be willing to do anything for relief. However, you may be unknowingly doing things that make the inflammation and irritation worse.
For example, if you are a high stress or anxiety type of person, your body cannot relax and the result is a spasm that won’t easily go away. It’s like the burning sensation you get in your shoulders if you spend a lot of time in traffic and are constantly on guard. Your muscles tense up and start to react to the overexertion caused by the inability to give them relief.
Another muscle offender is too much caffeine. Although it is great to spend your morning gulping down as much of this liquid energy as you can, it can have negative consequences. Your body becomes overstimulated and your muscles respond accordingly.
Certain medications can also affect whether you suffer from back spasms or not. For example, some over the counter products contain ingredients that make your body tense or excited (think about the several cold remedies you have taken in the past that keep you up at night). They may have pseudoephedrine or similar active ingredients that speed up your system and cause it to respond in a way that makes muscles spasms more likely.
Some prescriptions or vitaminsalso impact your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients your body needs to avoid painful muscle spasms. For example, taking birth control pills can lower your absorption rate of potassium and too much calcium could inhibit your body from absorbing enough magnesium – both of which can lead to throbbing spasms.
Putting It All Together
When you have to endure a back muscle spasm, whether it’s once or time and time again, it can cause you much pain and suffering. Your muscles become overwhelmingly tight and you may find yourself in search of relief in any manner possible.
Some causes of spasms are beyond your control. These include aging, having other medical conditions that bring about or aggravate your back muscles and taking medications that put your body in just the right internal environment to make it seize and spasm.
And, on the converse, some causes are self-created. For instance, if you currently smoke, you could be putting yourself at higher risk of back related issues and if you’re out of shape you may notice more back pain than your in-shape counterparts. Also, things such as bad posture, not moving around enough on a regular basis and allowing your body to dehydrate also result in potential spasms.
In addition, some of your choices may unknowingly be making the spasms either worse or more prevalent. These include not relieving your body of stress often enough, consuming too much caffeine and taking medications that either incite the spasms or inhibit the absorption of vitamins and minerals necessary to stop them.
Back muscle spasms are no fun. At a minimum, they cause you pain and aggravation. And, if they happen often enough, they can affect your ability to work as you’re either home on the couch a lot or constantly at the doctor’s office. They also inhibit your enjoyment of pleasurable activities such as golf or any other sport that suits your fancy.
Now that you know how they are caused, you can take precautions to avoid them. After all, as Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”