A spasm in your back muscles is a common type of back pain. They can be tiny twinges or crippling contractions. At-home treatments like ice and heat can help, as can muscle relaxants, massages, stretches and consistent exercise. Sometimes back spasms can be a sign of a serious disorder and you may need to see a healthcare provider right away.
A spasm is when your muscles suddenly and against your will. They may painfully twinge, seize or contract. The muscles in your upper, middle and lower back are divided into three types: intrinsic/deep muscles, superficial muscles and intermediate muscles. Lower back spasms are more common, but any muscle can contract.
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Around 80% of people in the U.S. have had or will have some sort of back pain in their lives. Back spasms and other back pain are, unfortunately, common.
Back spasms can start with no warning, or they may begin as a mild twitch that builds to agonizing pain.
Athletes, those who do heavy lifting and anyone with other types of back pain are more likely to experience back spasms.
Sometimes pain from a back spasm can “radiate.” This means that the pain starts in your back but moves to other parts of your body like your legs or hips.
No. If you’re in labor you’ll feel the muscles in your uterus contract, not your back. But you may have back pain in your lower back as part of back labor.
There are a number of possible causes for back spasms:
Sometimes, your back spasms may mean that you have a serious condition, including:
You’re more likely to experience pain that’s like a back spasm — but isn’t actually a back spasm — if you have any of the following disorders:
Yes. Talk to your healthcare provider about a referral to a therapist who can help you manage your stress and anxiety.
You should always go to the emergency room if you have chest pain. Pain in your back can sometimes radiate to other parts of your body, but it’s usually to your hips or legs.
A back spasm may feel mild like a dull ache or twitch, or it can get so sharp and painful that it’s debilitating.
If you experience any of the following symptoms in addition to back spasms, you should see your healthcare provider right away:
If you use your back muscles too much, you may have spasms for a few days. It may take several weeks if there’s a muscle strain.
After talking to you about your symptoms and getting a list of your medications, your healthcare provider may ask about your entire medical history. Be sure to mention any trauma to your back. Your provider may diagnose your back spasms based on the symptoms you describe.
You can see your primary healthcare provider about your back spasms. If needed, they may send you to a specialist.
Healthcare providers used to prescribe bed rest for those who deal with back spasms. Such inactivity is no longer recommended. Instead, follow your provider's instructions about the following:
The side effects of muscle relaxants include:
Refer to the instructions that come with your prescription regarding dosages and when you can operate a vehicle.
Your primary healthcare provider can recommend at-home treatments, refer you to physical therapy and prescribe muscle relaxants, if necessary.
It’s possible that your back spasms may go away on their own, but it depends on what caused them. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best treatment plan for your situation.
Back spasms aren’t 100% preventable. But you can consistent self-care can help, including:
Yes, but they may also come back.
You might heal after a couple days, or it could be weeks. Talk to your healthcare provider about a recovery plan.
Although back spasms don’t cause and aren’t caused by the following symptoms, they sometimes happen at the same time.
You don’t have to live with back spasms and other types of back pain. Talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms to receive treatment.
Call 911 if you’re unable to move because of the pain.
Back spasms are sometimes a symptom of a serious condition. See your healthcare provider right away if you also experience:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Remember that it’s important to stay active even when you’re in pain (as long as that pain isn’t caused by over-using your muscles)! Get up and stretch every 30 minutes and exercise three times a week. To help with your pain, take over-the-counter medications and muscle relaxants and get a massage. Always discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider so that you can get the best care.
Keep in mind that back spasms are sometimes a symptom of a serious disorder. Notice other symptoms you might have alongside them and go to the emergency department if you have tingling/numbness on one side, weakness or if you lose your ability to control your bowel or bladder. If you’re debating whether or not to go to the emergency department, it’s better to go and be told you’re not in serious condition than to stay home.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/26/2022.
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