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Back Muscle Spasms: Don’t Ignore the Pain

Muscle spasms in your back can be so painful that there may be a more serious issue with your spine. Listen to your body, don’t ignore the pain.


Muscle spasms occur after any type of strain or injury to the muscles, tendons or ligaments in the spine. The muscles instinctively react to the pain and inflammation by going into a spasm.  
Underlying issues that cause muscle spasm include:
  • Facet joint osteoarthritis (located in spine’s posterior)
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Pain from a herniated disc
Persistent pain may point to a more serious injury.  If the pain persists, schedule an examination with your physician or physical therapist. Treatments for immediately relieving intense back pain include:
  • Muscle relaxants have a calming effect on the entire body.
  • Cold therapy helps relieve an acute flare-up of pain. Apply an ice cold pack to help reduce local inflammation and in turn contributing back pain.
  • An nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) can help reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Reduce stress on your back. Movement may be too painful and you need to rest. Reduce stress by laying on your back with your upper body supported at a slight incline. And prop a pillow under your knees. Or sit at an incline in a reclining chair with your legs supported and knees bent.
  • Walk as much as possible. Prolonged inactivity will stiffen your muscles and will likely lead to more pain. In general, walking is gentle on your back and promotes blood flow.  Movement helps speed along the healing process.
  • Heating pads and heat therapy applied to the affected area can bring back pain relief. Some people find heat is best, some prefer ice, and some find it most helpful to alternate the two therapies.
The recovery time from an overuse injury (or muscle strain) will take a short period of time.  The above mentioned treatments may help offset the pain associated with the injury.  The underlying cause of the problem will still need treatment.
Talk to your physical therapist or doctor about treatment options that work best for you.
There are a few basic stabilization exercises that aid in low back pain relief. Before attempting any strengthening program, meet with a specialist first. Your doctor will examine you to assess all muscle inhibitions. As your core abdominal muscles may be too weak for strengthening exercises. Attempting to strengthen an inhibited muscle may result in exacerbating the back injury.
Rest is an important part of the strengthening process. The body needs to rest every few days after exercising  to build strong muscles.
Abdominal Strengthening Exercise
Lie on one’s back with the knees bent. It is important to maintain a neutral lumbar spine (don’t try pushing the back all the way into the floor). Knees and feet should be shoulder width apart. Draw the belly button toward the spine while maintaining a neutral spine. Upon exhalation, reach toward the ceiling as if trying to grab a trapeze overhead. Raise the head and shoulders off the floor to the point where the shoulder blades touch the floor, and hold. Inhale upon return and repeat at the end of the next exhalation. Continue until it is not possible to maintain a neutral spine or when fatigued.
Buttock Strengthening Exercise
Lie on the stomach with the hips and legs off the end of a table or bench. Tighten the buttock on one side and extend the leg up toward the ceiling. Movements should be slow. It is common to only be able to perform a few repetitions at a time.
Hip Strengthening Exercise
If the hip muscle is weak or inhibited, the opposite pelvis will drop when standing on one leg. A healthy single leg stance occurs while walking.  A weak hip muscle (gluteus medius) will result in the opposite hip dropping during the gait cycle. Weak hips may lead to  increased back and hip pain when walking.
To strengthen the hip, lie on one’s side with the back against the wall. Draw the belly button in while maintaining a neutral spine. Raise the upper leg with the toes pointed toward the ceiling. Hold at the top. 
Optimizing Exercise Programs for Pain Relief
Strengthening exercises should precede with a warm-up and conclude with cool-down activities. Any lower back pain or leg pain may be a more serious injury. Consult a physical therapist that specializes in spine exercise programs. Before starting any exercise program.


To learn more about treatment options for back pain contact Moriarty Physical Therapy to schedule a free exploratory examination with one of our doctors.


Moriarty Physical Therapy is the premier physical therapist provider here in the Hudson Valley with centers located near you. To find out more about physical therapy or to book your first appointment with a physical therapist, contact Moriarty Physical Therapy at (845) 454-4137.

Schedule a FREE 15-minute Exploration Visit

Come visit one of our physical therapy clinics in New York or North Carolina and one of our Doctors of Physical Therapy will do a 15-minute consultation to see if physical therapy is right for you. In the consultation, we’ll help determine the source of pain and movement restrictions to see if you would benefit from physical therapy or might need the assistance of another healthcare professional. If so, we’ll make a referral and help speed up achieving your health goal.

You have nothing to lose; the screening is free! And if physical therapy could help you, we can perform the examination right then–even without a prescription–with Direct Access (covered by insurance).

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