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Back Spasm Relief: Causes, At-Home Treatments, and Massage Therapy

Pain from recurring back spasms can be a frustrating thing to manage. Whether it’s a distracting muscle twitch or a debilitating cramp, back spasms can be an unwelcome intrusion in your life. Understanding why back spasms occur is the first step to finding relief. In this blog, we’ll go over the common causes of spasms as well as the treatment options available to quell them.

massage treatment for back spasms

What Are Back Spasms? 

Back spasms occur when muscles in the back contract involuntarily, causing mild to severe pain. This is often accompanied by a sensation of tightness, stiffness, muscle twitching, or a cramping/seizing feeling. Spasms can happen in any muscle in the upper, middle, or lower back, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several hours, and may recur frequently. 


Causes of Back Spasms 

Understanding the root cause of your back spasms is the key to optimal treatment. Some common causes include: 

  • Muscle Strain: Overuse or injury from lifting heavy objects, sudden movements, poor posture, or even being on your feet for a prolonged amount of time can strain back muscles, leading to spasms. 

  • Dehydration: Muscles require proper hydration to function smoothly. Lack of adequate water intake can lead to cramping and spasms. 

  • Electrolyte Imbalance: Minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium are essential for muscle function. Imbalances can trigger spasms. 

  • Nerve Irritation: Conditions such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis can irritate the nerves in the back, causing muscle spasms. 

  • Stress & Anxiety: Stress can also cause back spasms. When we are particularly stressed or anxious, our bodies release “fight or flight” hormones like adrenaline, which can cause the muscles around the spine to tense and spasm. 

Try to be mindful of the conditions your body is under when your back spasms strike – have you not had any water lately? Are you having a stressful or high-anxiety day? Did you recently overexert yourself or injure your back? By identifying the cause of your back spasms, you can better choose the proper treatment options. 


Treating Back Spasms at Home 

Here are some ways that you can reduce the symptoms of back spasms at home. 

Heating Pads 

No matter the cause of your spasms, immediate pain relief can often be found through the use of heating pads. The heat helps to increase blood flow to the area so that the muscles relax rather than tighten. Stop applying heat once the spasm has passed, as overuse of heating pads can cause negative side effects

Over-the-Counter Medications 

Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation, however, this is only a short-term solution and will not prevent spasms from recurring. If your spasms are short-lived, it’s likely that pain medication won’t take effect fast enough to meaningfully reduce pain. 

Rest & Ice/Heat Therapy 

If your back spasms are caused by injury or overuse, try resting and applying ice and heat to reduce inflammation and pain. Ice is typically used in the first 48 hours following an injury, while heat can be applied thereafter to relax the muscles. 

Stretching & Strengthening Exercises 

If you find your back muscles are easily strained by everyday activities like lifting objects or standing for long periods, strengthening and stretching your muscles could be a long-term solution for you. Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises can improve flexibility and support the back muscles. In some cases, overworked back muscles are compensating for weak core muscles not being able to support the torso, so you may find that building your abdominal muscles can help your back pain! 

Hydration & Nutrition 

Ensuring proper hydration and a balanced diet rich in essential minerals can prevent electrolyte imbalances that may be contributing to your back spasms. 

Stress Management 

If you suspect your back spasms are caused by stress and anxiety, addressing your mental health could help to reduce the frequency of spasms. You might try breathing exercises, meditations to improve your mental health, or pursue expert treatment through psychological counseling/therapy.  


Massage Therapy for Back Spasms 

When it comes to dealing with back spasms, you don’t have to go it alone. A qualified massage therapist can help to alleviate your back spasm pain by: 

  • Improving Blood Circulation: Massage increases blood flow to the affected area, which helps in delivering oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, promoting healing. 

  • Reducing Muscle Tension: By applying pressure and using specific techniques, massage therapists can relieve tension and relax the muscles, reducing the frequency and severity of spasms. 

  • Enhancing Flexibility: Regular massage therapy can improve muscle flexibility and range of motion, which helps alleviate stiffness and prevent future spasms. 

  • Relieving Stress: Massage therapy not only addresses physical tension but also helps reduce stress, which may be exacerbating your pain. 


Beyond Pain Management 

While taking pain medications or using heating pads can temporarily halt the pain, pursuing preventative measures is the only long-term solution. By understanding the causes, you can effectively choose the treatment option that works best for you – preventing back spasms from recurring in the future. If you would like to try massage therapy for back spasms, our medically-informed massage therapists are here to help! 


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Emily McGuire is a Marketing Associate and staff writer for Resolve Wellness. With a Bachelor's degree in International Business from UC San Diego, she is a California native with a passion for writing, digital marketing, health, and wellness.

Reviewed by: Erynne Hill, MS, ATC, HHP, BFRC, a Nationally Certified Athletic Trainer and Massage Therapist who has been a part of the healthcare field since 2002. She is the Director of Resolve Wellness, specializing in manual lymphatic drainage and prenatal massage. Erynne has extensive knowledge of both massage and physiology, even receiving her Master's degree in Exercise Physiology from San Diego State University.


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