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What Causes Painful Back Spasms

Use Back Support To Limit Stress On Your Back

How to Treat Back Spasms

When resting in bed, you may find that the most comfortable position is on your back with pillows placed under your knees and a rolled towel or small pillow placed in the small of your back. Also, when sitting in a chair use a back support cushion to maintain a better posture. This helps to support the natural curvature of your back, and takes pressure off the lower back by providing additional support to the area.

Kyphosis Or A Kyphotic Curve

A kyphotic curve is in the spine in the thoracic spine that can be caused by a number of factors like osteoporosis. This curve can often cause issues with the upper back including pain and spasms.

As you can see from the above list of upper back muscle spasms, the causes are quite expansive but luckily for a great number of these causes, there are treatments available.

First What Is A Muscle Spasm

In general, muscle spasms can occur when a muscle involuntarily and forcibly contracts and is unable to relax. Muscle spasms can involve part or all of a muscle, and in some cases may involve several muscles in a muscle group.

The pain associated with muscle spasms can vary from burning, to sharp stabbing, tightness, numbness, or severe pain. While some muscle spasms dont interfere with normal activities, others can be debilitating and last for days/weeks.

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When To See A Doctor For Back Spasms

If youre still in pain after a week or 2, or if the pain radiates down your butt or thighs , see your doctor. In some cases, back pain reveals a bigger issue, such as a fracture, tumor or infection. However, it is more common for a relatively normal disc to tear from physical activity or sports, says Dr. Hanscom. This can cause pain or stiffness that triggers spasms.

If necessary, your doctor will assess the situation with imaging tests such as X-rays or an MRI. She or he might also recommend a prescription pain medication. Common options include:

  • Muscle relaxants. Despite the name, these medications dont directly affect your muscles. They act on your brain and spinal cord to relieve pain. Since muscle relaxants can be habit-forming and cause drowsiness, theyre only recommended for short periods of time and only in certain situations, such as before bed. One example is methocarbamol , which tends to be less sedating than other muscle relaxants.
  • Steroid injections. If your back pain is accompanied by sciatica, your doctor may inject a steroid into your spine to relieve inflammation. This can provide short-term relief while you try other strategies, such physical therapy, to relieve pain.
  • Opioids. On rare occasions, your doctor might prescribe morphine or oxycodone for severe back pain. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids are usually no more effective than NSAIDs. And the downside is that theyre very addictive.

What Is A Back Spasm

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A back spasm is a sudden onset of back tightness. Usually it feels like a tight muscle, and sometimes the tight sensation becomes so intense and severe that it prevents you from moving normally. A back spasm may last for several hours to several days. Some people with back spasms have difficulty bending forward due to the pain and tightness.

Common sensations and symptoms felt when you have a back spasm may include:

  • Pain on one or both sides of your back
  • A tight sensation in your back
  • Difficulty bending your spine
  • Pulsing pains and sensations in your low back

Sometimes back spasms may cause you to feel pain in your buttocks and hips. When they are really severe, they may be accompanied by nerve pain, numbness, and tingling that radiates down one or both legs.

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How Upper Back Spasms Are Diagnosed

Muscle spasms vary in frequency and severity depending on the cause and patient. Back pain due to spasms is diagnosed using several scales that allow a patient to report their level of muscle tightness.

The Modified Ashworth Scale developed in 1987 is most commonly used today. The 4-point scale ranges from a 0, for which muscle tone doesnât increase at all, to a 4, for which muscle is rigid in flexion or extension .


Upper back muscle spasms are self-diagnosed based on several scales that grade the frequency and intensity of muscle spasms. These spasms vary greatly in intensity, frequency, and duration from person to person.

Disc Disorders And Muscle Spasms

Conditions, such as or herniated disc, may cause an acute episode of low back pain. A disc may herniate or bulge and compress a nearby spinal nerve root causing irritation and inflammation. The body attempts to immobilize the affected area to stop pain by tightening the surrounding musculature and as a result, painful muscle spasms occur.

Muscles can become too tight due to lack of exercise, too much exercise, structural imbalances, dehydration and electrolyte loss, or any combination thereof. In contrast, some muscle groups are too weak. When muscular imbalances become chronic aberrant forces are transmitted to the spine. Consequently, one movement outside of the norm can trigger an injury to a spinal joint, ligament, or disc resulting in spasm and back pain. Because these structures are already primed, the event that triggers the spasm is nothing more than the proverbial straw that broke the camels back.

Muscle spasm in the low back is exceedingly painful and often debilitating over the short-term. Here are several remedies that can help you get moving again.

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Upper Back Spasms: Dont Let Them Rule Your Life

Upper back spasms are quite uncomfortable. The back is such a huge part of the body, physically and in terms of movement. You use your back for walking, sitting, and lying down. When using your arms to lift or move anything, you are also engaging the muscles in your back. Luckily, for many of the causes of upper back spasms, they can be dealt with naturally at home. That being said, if you are unsure of the extent of your back spasm problems, go see a doctor to get checked out.

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When To See A Healthcare Provider

Common Causes of Back Pain

Most episodes of low back spasms will go away on their own, but sometimes your condition may require that you visit your healthcare provider for proper treatment. Symptoms that indicate you should visit a medical professional right away for your back spasms may include:

  • Spasms that came on after significant trauma
  • Back spasms that are accompanied by tingling, numbness, or weakness in one or both of your legs
  • Spasms accompanied by difficulty initiating urination or difficulty holding in a bowel movement
  • Low back spasms that prevent you from sitting or standing with an upright posture
  • Spasms that come on with fever or within a few weeks of unexplained weight loss
  • Spasms that do not improve with a week or two of rest

Naturally, if you have any symptom that causes you to worry that something serious is going on, call your healthcare provider. There is no harm in having a discussion about your spasms with your healthcare provider. They can then determine if you need to be seen and can offer guidance on how to best treat your condition.

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When To See A Doctor

Most back pain will improve after a week of home treatment and self-care. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should consult a health care expert immediately to be examined:

  • Loss of control of your bowels or your bladder
  • Inability to walk normally
  • Pain lasting more than 2 weeks
  • Swelling or redness on your back
  • Incessant, intense back pain when you lie down or at night while sleeping
  • The back pain travels down one or both legs, especially beyond your knee
  • Weakness, tingling, or numbness in one or both legs
  • Weight loss

What Is Your Back Muscle Spasm Telling You

Muscle spasms in your back can range from a minor discomfort and stiffness to a sharp, severe pain and muscle tightening that prevents normal back movements. Your back might be telling you to avoid a certain activity, or it could be warning of a more serious underlying issue in your spine.

A muscle strain can be a source of extraordinary pain. Watch:Lower Back Strain Video

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Upper Back Spasms: Causes And Home Remedies

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

If youve ever faced an injury or other physical restriction to your back, you know how greatly it can affect your life. Your back serves as a bit of a focal point for the rest of your body. Back pain can make it hard to move, hard to relax comfortablyhard to do a whole lot of things. Upper back spasms are a prime example of this discomfort. Not only could they make your back hurt in general, but they can also affect your ability to walk, sit, or lie down. You may find any movement a challenge with upper back spasms. So, how do you deal with upper back spasms? What are the causes of upper back spasms, and what are upper back spasms treatments? Here, we are going to look at upper back spasms and pain and the best ways to treat these issues.

Types Of Muscle Strains

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Lower back muscle strains can be graded into the following types based on the severity1:

  • Grade I or mild injury causing the muscle fibers to stretch beyond their normal limit
  • Grade II or moderate injury where several muscle fibers may tear
  • Grade III or severe injury where the entire muscle ruptures

The vast majority of muscle strains are typically grade I, which will usually heal even without treatment. However, even grade I tears can be surprisingly painful, and if left untreated, they may worsen over time.2

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What Are Back Spasms

A spasm is when your muscles suddenly and against your will. They may painfully twinge, seize or contract. The muscles in your upper, middle and lower back are divided into three types: intrinsic/deep muscles, superficial muscles and intermediate muscles. Lower back spasms are more common, but any muscle can contract.

What Research Is Being Done

The mission of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is to seek fundamental knowledge of the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease. NINDS is a component of the National Institutes of Health , the leading supporter of biomedical research in the world.

As a primary supporter of research on pain and pain mechanisms, NINDS is a member of the NIH Pain Consortium, which was established to promote collaboration among the many NIH Institutes and Centers with research programs and activities addressing pain. On an even broader scale, NIH participates in the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee, a federal advisory committee that coordinates research across other U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agencies as well as the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

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Low Back Pain Fact Sheet

If you have had lower back pain, you are not alone. Back pain is one of most common reasons people see a doctor or miss days at work. Even school-age children can have back pain.

Back pain can range in intensity from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp or shooting pain. It can begin suddenly as a result of an accident or by lifting something heavy, or it can develop over time as we age. Getting too little exercise followed by a strenuous workout also can cause back pain.

There are two types of back pain:

  • Acute, or short-term back pain lasts a few days to a few weeks. Most low back pain is acute. It tends to resolve on its own within a few days with self-care and there is no residual loss of function. In some cases a few months are required for the symptoms to disappear.
  • Chronic back pain is defined as pain that continues for 12 weeks or longer, even after an initial injury or underlying cause of acute low back pain has been treated. About 20 percent of people affected by acute low back pain develop chronic low back pain with persistent symptoms at one year. Even if pain persists, it does not always mean there is a medically serious underlying cause or one that can be easily identified and treated. In some cases, treatment successfully relieves chronic low back pain, but in other cases pain continues despite medical and surgical treatment.

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Acute and Chronic Back Pain Causes | Yashoda Hospitals

Treatment of a back spasm depends on the severity and duration of the back pain. If you develop a back spasm after an injury, your doctor may suggest trying to ice or heat therapy on your back to relieve initial pain. Ice will help to reduce the inflammation and heat improves the blood supply. Most patients with pinched nerves respond well to non-surgical and conservative treatment. Other treatment protocol includes 4:

  • Medications: This includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants to relieve symptoms of muscle pain. Study shows that muscle relaxants help to relieve pain 5.
  • Physical therapy: This includes stretching and light exercises that can reduce pressure on your nerves and relieve minor pains.

Most of the time, only rest can relieve the patient from this condition. If you still face some problems after following the above treatments, your doctor may advise to go for surgical intervention. Always ask your physician before taking any medications for your safety.

Recommended Reading: Exercise For Lower Back Pain Mayo Clinic

Getting Active And Hydrated

Staying hydrated is a great way to relieve back spasms quickly. This is even more important if you live in a warm area or your job requires exerting lots of physical energy.

Generally, experts recommend that you drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water, which is about two litres, or half a gallon of water every day. In reality, your actual water intake would depend on your individual needs, lifestyle, and prevailing weather conditions. Heres a simple table you can use as a reference.

Source: Healthline

Talk With Your Doctor

Its important to treat both spasticity and muscle spasms. Severe, long-term spasticity can lead to muscle contracture, which can decrease your range of motion or leave the affected joints permanently bent. And muscle spasms can not only be uncomfortable, they can also be a sign of an underlying medical problem.

Your muscle spasms or spasticity are likely treatable with rest, physical therapy, medications, or all of the above. Work with your doctor to put together a care plan that can ease your pain and get you moving comfortably again.

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How Are Back Spasms Evaluated And Diagnosed

After talking to you about your symptoms and getting a list of your medications, your healthcare provider may ask about your entire medical history. Be sure to mention any trauma to your back. Your provider may diagnose your back spasms based on the symptoms you describe.

Which healthcare providers evaluate and diagnose back spasms?

You can see your primary healthcare provider about your back spasms. If needed, they may send you to a specialist.

What questions might a healthcare provider ask to help diagnose back spasms?

  • What does the pain feel like?
  • Where is the pain located?
  • Have you ever loss control of your bowel or bladder?
  • How long do the spasms last?
  • How often do you have back spasms?
  • Any stiffness?
  • Do you get any tingling or numbness in your body?
  • Do you ever feel weak or uncoordinated when youre having back spasms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What Does A Back Spasm Feel Like

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A back spasm can feel like a tightening, pulling or twitching of the muscles in your back. With some muscle spasms the muscle will be hard to the touch or show a visible twitching.4

The intensity and duration of each muscle spasm can vary.

A back spasm involving the piriformis muscle in the lower back may also lead to leg pain called sciatica5 .

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Other Conditions That Cause Back Pain In Older Adults

We often see a range of less serious but still painful spine conditions in seniors. Most patients with these conditions will not require surgery. Physical therapy, medication, injectable anesthetics, or a combination of treatments usually can control symptoms.

  • Degenerative disc disease, which can cause whole spine pain, and lumbar arthritis, which usually causes low-back pain, commonly develop with age and are considered wear-and-tear conditions.
  • Sacroiliitis is an inflammation of the joints that connect your spine and pelvis. This condition can cause pain in the low back, glutes, and upper legs.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory arthritis that causes patients spines to become inflexible, resulting in a continual hunched forward position and spine pain.
  • We also check for adult degenerative scoliosis and kyphosis, spine-curving conditions that can result in back pain and weakness in the lower extremities.

Underlying Issues With Your Spinal Anatomy

If you notice that your back spasms arent getting better, or if they repeatedly happen in the same area of your back, you may have an underlying issue with your spine, such as a disc herniation, spinal stenosis, arthritis, or other degenerative disc conditions. In cases where there is an underlying anatomical issue, the muscles of your back react to the pain and inflammation by going into spasm.

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