What is a back spasm?

Have you ever had the painful experience where one moment you’re fine and the next you can barely turn your head?  Or perhaps you simply bent over to pick up a sock and could barely straighten up?  Maybe you sneezed and your back seized, or you “slept wrong” and woke up unable to move properly? 

You may often see in the mirror that your posture is not fully aligned. All of these experiences likely involve some back spasms.  Back spasms are a painful seizing feeling in the neck, middle or lower back due to elevated or intense muscle contractions.  

Occasionally, muscles may spasm because of fatigue or dehydration, but usually, muscles do not spasm without reason.  It is typical that muscle spasms occur in reaction to another underlying injury or dysfunction, such as spinal joint inflammation or misalignment.  This is your body’s way of trying to protect itself by bracing the muscles around the pain or trying to pull your body to the side away from the pain.

What is the main cause of back spasms?

main cause of back spasms

Most back spasms occur as a reaction to underlying irritation or injury in the spine. Causes may include simple misalignment of the vertebrae, sprain/strains of the joints, facet joint inflammation/impingement, disc injuries and pinched nerves to name a few.  Rarely, a more serious cause such as a fracture may be present.

It’s important to have your problem assessed by a chiropractor to determine the best treatment or decide whether X-rays may be needed.  Focusing only on the muscle spasm itself may be overlooking the actual cause of your pain, the thing that is making the muscle go into spasm.  Remember, muscle spasms are usually reacting to something else.  

Why do I keep getting spasms in my lower back?

Some people will experience recurring back spasms. The good news is that the vast majority of causes of back spasms can be effectively treated at MSK Clinics. Remember that muscle spasms are usually reacting to an underlying pain or problem. Seeing a chiropractor at MSK Clinics can help to determine what that problem is.

They can guide you in identifying and correcting issues like weakness, inflexibility, posture, spinal mobility, training, or technique flaws in sport and exercise.  Depending on your needs, they may also refer you to another team member such as a massage therapist, physiotherapist, or strength specialist so that these painful episodes of back spasms will reduce or stop completely. 

Top tips to prevent back spasms. 

  1. Know your limits.  Many back spasms occur when we are tired at the end of a physical day, physical activity, or even at the end of a specific exercise. Fatigue may cause muscles to spasm independently but also causes us to move with less control, increasing our risk of other injuries.
  2. Learn proper bending and lifting techniques and avoid being lazy.  Many back spasms occur when we are doing very light, simple movements rather than heavy tasks.  This may be because we are less mindful of how we move in those moments. 
  3. Exercise regularly to maintain good endurance, strength, and flexibility. 
  4. Learn and maintain good posture while standing or sitting.  
  5. Avoid sleeping on your stomach. This position forces both your neck and lower back into awkward positions, which can lead to pain and spasms.  Try sleeping on your side with both hips bent in front of you.  A pillow between your knees may also help. 
  6. Some episodes of back spasms occur after being in a non-ideal position for an extended time, such as sitting on the floor playing with your kids or building IKEA furniture or long periods of standing in a line-up.  If you aren’t able to avoid these positions, at least make sure that you break the monotony with regular movement breaks, about 3-4 times per hour, to reduce the risk. 
  7. Contrary to popular belief,  there is no evidence that a cold draft at night may cause spasms.  Simply sleep at a comfortable temperature.