What is a Back Spasm?
Back spasm usually refers to a sudden involuntary contraction or tightness of the muscles of the lower back (Pergolizzi, Jo, & Lequang, 2020). Spasms can range from sporadic and somewhat uncomfortable to persistent and painful spasms that make it difficult to move. Physicians can easily manage back spasms without surgery. According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), about 85 percent of persons in the United States have back spasms at some point in their lives (Paolucci et al., 2019).
This disease affects the spinal cord or the nerve roots that branch off from it. This exerts pressure on the patient’s delicate nerves, causing extreme pain and suffering. Back spasms cause muscles in the patient’s back to tense, strain, or twitch. Muscle spasms can make a muscle seem rigid to the touch or cause it to twitch. Each muscle spasm might differ in intensity and length. Back spasms can render a person immobile and make it difficult to carry out daily chores without groaning in discomfort.
What are the Common Symptoms and Causes of a Back Spasm?
Back pain often leads to a very serious condition that requires a physician’s immediate attention. Symptoms that often affect the back might also affect other parts of the body. The most common musculoskeletal symptoms along with a back spasm include hip pain, spinal curvature, backache, muscle weakness, foot drop, etc. Patients may also experience some neurological symptoms due to the back spasms such as sciatica, headache, nerve problems in the arm, buttock, shoulder, or leg that produce pain, numbness, or tingling, etc. The following back spasm symptoms may signal a severe problem in the patient (Rechtine, 1992):
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Loss of balance
- Abnormal sensations in the back, legs, etc.
- Radiating pain that travels down to the leg
- Sharp pain in the area due to muscle injury
Sciatica refers to a painful condition caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve in the spine. This extra-long nerve can cause discomfort anywhere down the patient’s legs, from the lower back to the toes.
Muscle spasms can occur for a variety of causes. Injuries or inflammation commonly cause lower back spasms. A mild strain, for example, might cause spasms in some patients. In other cases, a significant underlying disease, such as a herniated or ruptured spinal disc, may cause spasms. Injuries of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the back region mostly result in back spasms. Some of the most common causes of lower back spasms include poor posture, inadequate exercise, muscle overuse, post-exercise pain, heavy lifting, heavy activities during playing golf and football, etc. Weak abdominal muscles also result in injury since these muscles support our back (Mccarberg, Ruoff, Tenzer-iglesias, Weil, & Orthopaedics, 2011). Some pathological causes of back spasm may include :
- Arthritis in the spine
- Ruptured disc in the vertebrae
- Bulging disc that puts pressure on the nerve
- Spinal stenosis
- Herniated disc
- Spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis
- Scoliosis, or twisting of the spine
- Epidural abscess, etc.
Sometimes, stress and anxiety can trigger a lower back spasm. Fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes pain and tenderness in the body can also occur alongside muscle spasms.
How do Spinal Specialists Diagnose Back Spasms?
Physicians can easily diagnose back spasms by observing the clinical presentation and pain patterns of patients. The initial diagnosis of a back spasm also includes asking some questions to the patients about the severity, duration, and frequency of the pain.
Further confirmation of a back spasm may include various diagnostic imaging tests like X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computerized tomography (CT) to observe the conditions of the spinal bones and nearby muscles and tissues.
Sometimes spinal specialists perform myelogram and electromyography to test the nerve impulses of the patient. These diagnostic tests, when done together, help to identify and diagnose possible disc problems and causes of a back spasm.
How do Neurosurgeons treat a Back Spasm?
Treatment of a back spasm involves treating the underlying causes first. This depends upon the duration and severity of the back pain. Physicians suggest patients with back spasms due to an injury apply ice or heat therapy for initial pain relief. Ice therapy helps to decrease inflammation, while heat increases the blood flow. Most patients with back spams respond well to conservative treatment. Other treatment options may include (Traeger et al., 2014):
- Pain medication: This includes over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) to treat a sudden, painful back spasm.
- Muscle relaxants: This also helps to relieve pain.
- Physical therapy: This helps to strengthen muscles and resolve muscle weakness and imbalances. Physical therapy includes gentle exercises and stretching to reduce the pressure on the affected nerves.
Resting for a few days can relieve the primary symptoms of a back spasm only in certain cases. Chronic pain from back spasms requires lifestyle changes, steroid injections, nerve blocks, or relaxation strategies to recover. If the above treatment fails, patients may require surgery after hospital admission. For any questions, please contact us.
Mccarberg, B. H., Ruoff, G. E., Tenzer-iglesias, P., Weil, A. J., & Orthopaedics, N. (2011). Diagnosis and Treatment of Low-Back Pain Because of Paraspinous Muscle Spasm : A Physician Roundtable. 119–127.
Paolucci, T., Attanasi, C., Cecchini, W., Marazzi, A., Capobianco, S. V., & Santilli, V. (2019). Chronic low back pain and postural rehabilitation exercise: A literature review. Journal of Pain Research, 12, 95–107. https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S171729
Pergolizzi, J. V, Jo, J., & Lequang, A. (2020). Rehabilitation for Low Back Pain : A Narrative Review for Managing Pain and Improving Function in Acute and Chronic Conditions. Pain and Therapy, 9(1), 83–96. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40122-020-00149-5
Rechtine, G. R. (1992). Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain. Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma, 6(3), 395. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005131-199209000-00031
Traeger, A. C., Moseley, G. L., Hübscher, M., Lee, H., Skinner, I. W., Nicholas, M. K., … Mcauley, J. H. (2014). Pain education to prevent chronic low back pain : a study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005505