Many people suffer from painful back spasms — those seemingly out-of-nowhere jolts to the spine that can stop you in your tracks. Not only are back spasms painful, but they’re also annoying and stressful, and can lead to missing days at work or school and possibly being immobilized for extended periods. But don’t fret. With a bit of understanding and preparation, back spasms don’t have to catch you off guard.
Back spasms can occur from injuries to the spinal muscles, tendons and ligaments. They can often be caused by heavy lifting or participating in a sport that requires repeated turning or twisting of the back. They can also be present during pregnancy, and sometimes, they can seem to be precipitated by none of the above. In more severe cases, back spasms may also be the result of more significant health conditions. These include ruptured or bulging spinal cord disc, arthritis, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis and obesity.
While they can be extremely painful, back spasms are generally treatable. And there are some things you can do to significantly reduce or prevent the occurrence of the condition in the first place.
Preventing Back Spasms
One of the most substantial safeguards against back spasms is a strong, healthy and flexible body.
Strengthen Your Core
Abdominal muscles are the primary support system for your back. It is imperative to exercise regularly to support these muscles. Some of the best exercise types for core strength include Pilates, yoga, light weightlifting with professional guidance and walking. The bottom line is to keep moving so that your spine stays limber and the muscles surrounding it remain healthy.
Drop a Few Pounds
Being overweight can place a lot of undue strain on the back, hip and leg muscles. If possible, work on your diet so that you’re consuming plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein. Also, incorporate strengthening exercises until you have achieved a body weight that your doctor believes is appropriate.
Stretching is vital for flexibility. It’s recommended that you stretch before and after exercise or playing a sport. It’s also a good idea to stretch after lying or sitting for extended periods.
It’s essential to drink plenty of water throughout the day. If you’re dehydrated, your muscles will tend to seize up, or spasm. Your muscles and joints need water to say supple and lubricated.
Consider Physical Therapy
Physical therapy can help keep your spine in alignment and your muscles engaged. The added benefit is that you will likely receive instruction on proper exercise and stretching mechanics that you can easily do at home after the course of physical therapy has ended.
Alleviating Back Spasms
There are a variety of things you can do to treat back spasms effectively. There are natural and home remedies, as well as medical approaches to treatment.
Your first treatment option for a back spasm may be taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to relieve the pain or inflammation. These options should be temporary treatments as they can be hard on the stomach and liver.
If you were engaged in doing something strenuous when the spasm occurred, stop what you were doing immediately, as more movement or lifting may worsen the injury or strain. Get yourself into a relaxed and comfortable position as soon as possible to allow your muscles to calm down.
Hot and Cold Packs
Alternate the application of heat and ice to the affected area after a back spasm has occurred. Heat encourages blood flow to the injury. While this temporarily increases swelling, it is this inflammation that the body uses naturally to protect and heal. Ice will help reduce the inflammation and aids in numbing the pain.
Light massage of the area can help relax the seized muscle and reduce pain.
If all else fails, speak with your health care provider about injections of a steroid to alleviate back spasm pain that won’t subside with non-invasive treatment. Steroids do come with potential side effects, so use this option only to help you get back on track.
Seek Medical Attention
If you suffer from repeated spasms of the back, seek advice from your doctor or spine specialist for an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan. He or she might take an X-ray or other imaging studies, or do a blood test to rule out a more serious health condition than just a pulled or strained muscle.
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