A spasm is a sudden and involuntary contraction of a group of muscles or just one muscle. One of the most common areas for a spasm to occur is in the back. When it happens near the nerve roots or spinal cord in the back, it can be extremely painful. The pain may be a result of a pulling, pushing, or twisting motion. At first, it may be possible to continue the activity or exercise. The pain may become so severe, however, that it will be impossible to continue, and immediate rest is required. You can experience pain and symptoms even if you are not doing anything. Pain usually occurs at the spasm site, typically in the lower back. Back spasm pain usually becomes more intense after any kind of movement, although it sometimes goes away in only a few hours.
Spasms tend to occur when a muscle is tender and swollen or strained. Any significant force can tear the tendons and muscles of the lower back. This is frequent during weight lifting. Sports that require pulling or pushing or a sudden twisting of the back can also cause back spasms. Football, golf, baseball, and basketball are sports that fit this description. Chances of suffering from back spasms increase if you have any back weakness. This includes tumors, arthritis, spinal stenosis, weak stomach muscles, disk ruptures, weak muscles that run along the spine or even tight hamstrings. Localized infections and nearby ligament strains can also cause back spasms. Other factors include prolonged exercise, salt depletion and dehydration, and metabolic disorders that affect the energy supply in muscle.
When a sudden spasm in the back occurs, it is important to remain calm and apply treatment. Begin with something cold, such as ice or a frozen compress. This will help limit blood flow and swelling, both of which cause an increase in pain. Make sure to wrap the ice in some kind of thin towel or cloth to prevent skin damage, such as frostbite. Applying cold can also help prevent future muscle spasms. If back spasms continue, try switching to a heating pad. You should also rest as much as possible to allow the muscle injury to heal. This may mean resting for 2-3 days if necessary. Unless told otherwise, try to remain somewhat mobile. It may be painful but walking for a few minutes several times throughout the day can help loosen up your back muscles and prevent them from tightening. You should elevate your legs to take pressure off of the back and help treat back spasms. The best position is to lie on the floor with the lower legs resting on a chair and the knees bent at 90 degrees. You can also elevate the legs by placing the feet on a foot stool or resting them on propped up pillows.
Back spasm pain may go away in a matter of minutes or hours. In severe cases, however, it may last a few days. You should try gentle leg and back stretching exercises which are designed for back strain. You should do these exercises gradually as you improve, and stop if they aggravate your back. One effective exercise has you lie on the floor while bending your knees and placing the bottoms of your feet flat on the floor. Gentle pull one of your knees towards your chest and hold it for about 10 seconds before releasing to the original position. Do the same with the other knee, and repeat around 6-7 times for each side. You can also try relaxation or distraction techniques to treat back spasms and reduce the pain. To prevent back spasms, try stretching your back every day. Water therapy can also help prevent back spasms from returning and decrease pain. Before you start a strenuous activity, you may want to briefly apply heat. This will increase the circulation, an effective technique to help prevent spasms. Cedars-Sinai has more information on back spasms and various causes/risk factors.