Back spasms are not fun. Once one gets a hold, it has no mercy. There are various reasons why spasms happen. For many of us over 30 & 40+, they can occur more frequently. This article will talk about what happens in the muscles during a spasm and the possible causes. With this in-depth understanding, you will know how to identify what is occurring, ease the pain, and reduce the chances of it happening again.
This article includes guided massage techniques you can do yourself for pain reduction and a guided yoga flow. These resources will help to support and maintain a durable back. They are effective methods that will keep you pain-free without depending on pain medications.
THE ANATOMY OF BACK SPASM
A back spasm is an involuntary contraction of the muscle or muscle group. When there is quick or unusual movement, you may experience a dramatic catching sensation that makes you feel stuck and unable to move. Back spasms can also make you feel as if you can’t breathe due to the intense pain. Spasms can even happen in response to “normal” movements – as if it came out of nowhere.
UNDERSTANDING MUSCLE STRUCTURE
Understanding muscles’ structure can give a more in-depth insight into what is going on when the pain hits you. Having this understanding will guide you to address the issue appropriately.
Diagram 1 shows the smaller group of fibers bunched together down to an individual band. The image shows the band broken down further to show the internal structure.
Individual fiber strands make up muscles. These strands are packed together and act as one large structure. Muscle fibers are technically cells that are threadlike, long in length, and are slender in shape. Individually or in smaller groups, they are fragile and vulnerable. For strength, muscles are wrapped together in connective tissue, called fascia. Bunched together in a group helps them work more efficiently together.
As shown in diagrams 1 & 2, there is a lot involved in making a muscle strand work. All must coordinate with one another to achieve their overall purpose. However, when they are out of sync, that’s when the problem begins.
Diagram 2 shows all the players that make each individual muscle contract and release, using four different proteins (Troponin, Actin, Tropomyosin, and Myosin ), which make up myofilaments.
Muscle tissue contains myofibrils that consist of both thin and thick myofilaments (shown in diagram 2). Calcium interacts with two of the proteins of the myofilaments. It is an essential chemical factor behind contraction. It assists actin and myosin to connect so that contraction can occur.
Sometimes, however, things don’t always go as planned. Spasms occur when calcium leaks from its place in the muscle fiber’s anatomy. This displacement triggers a persistent contraction that happens without nerve stimulation, which makes it involuntary. Being stuck in a spasm also indicates the lack of elasticity of the muscle fibers. Elasticity allows threads to return to their original and resting state. Muscles not returning to their resting state will produce pain and limitation in the range of movement.
CAUSES OF SPASMS
Spasms can happen in interims or when movement occurs. Typical causes include lack of dynamic physical activity, dehydration, inadequate diet, magnesium deficiency, and displaced calcium in the body. The lack of physical activity is especially an issue when you were more active at one point in your life but have slowed down significantly. It is essential to bring dynamic movement in the body often.
Consistent motion keeps vital elements and nutrients in the body flowing, moving, and flushing out toxins. A yoga practice, walking, dancing, hiking, etc. are excellent ways of achieving this. Even how you move around in your day-to-day can make a difference.
HOW POSTURE PLAY A ROLE
Poor posture habit is another trigger for spasms. For example, when standing: ineffective posture is indicated by the shoulders rounding forward, favoring one side to dedicate your weight [known as “sitting” in the hip], frequently carrying heavy bags that disables moving your arms to balance your weight when you walk, swayback, and a weak core.
When sitting, poor posture is indicated by hunching over at the computer or when driving. Rounding of the mid-back, favoring one side when sitting on the couch, and “slouching.” Seated in an office-type chair and your feet do not reach flat on the floor or have 90-degree angles between your hips to knees and knees to ankles can also play a role. Inadequate support for your back affects poor sitting posture.
Lifting heavy objects can trigger improper posture. For example, bending over at the waist with straight legs, extending from the arms to grab an object that is not close to you. In this situation, spasm (pain) occurs when you do not engage larger muscle groups to lift – meaning not using the quads and hamstrings in the thighs with the core’s (or abs) assistance.
Back Spasm Solution
WHAT TO DO WHEN SPASM STRIKES
The best thing you can do as soon as you have an episode is not to do anything strenuous. Find a comfortable (as possible) position and take a few deep breaths. Began to soften your thoughts and soften all muscles in the body by using the breath. Do micro-movements in the body to find some relief (these are very small and conscious movements). Each little movement that brings some comfort pause there and breath deeply.
[in quote] It is essential not to let your thoughts get ahead of you or out of control. Believe it or not, negative thoughts make the experience worst. The more you can relax your thinking, the more you can think clearly and know what to do next. Even when the pain is at its worst, that is the moment to relax through the breath even more.
Uji (or ocean sounding) breath can help create softness throughout your being and ensure that you control your thought process to avoid panic. This pranayama is ideal. It is conscious rhythmic breathing that uses sound by slightly constricting the back of the throat. That hissing sound can act as a focal point to keep your mind focused.
Unfortunately, just relaxing will not completely resolve the immediate pain. Still, when you cannot get immediate help, it can ensure that you will not do more damage. Allow the shoulders, the abs, and anything else to be very relaxed as you do this practice. Don’t rush to feel better. Take the necessary time to create a softness throughout the center of your body and your being.
Learning a new way of breathing does take practice. If you know that you are prone to spasms, practice this technique and embody it when you are not in a spastic situation. Practicing makes it easier to tap right in when you are in the worst pain. Check out a more detailed explanation of Pranayama here.
Put heat to the area. If you have a heating pad, that is fine, but heat from a water source is best. It is not as intense. Avoid icing. With the cold, the spasm muscles and other surrounding muscles will contract more. Ice is good for excessive heat build-up or inflammation from specific injuries. However, in this case, you want to relax the muscles. Adding heat will assist with that.
Take a nice warm shower or bath and let the soothing warm water relax the contracted muscles. The very best thing to do is take a warm bath with magnesium flakes or Epson salt. Magnesium plays a vital role in body functioning. An estimate of 2.5-15% of the population has a magnesium deficiency due to decreased dietary intake through foods like fresh dark leafy greens. If you don’t have magnesium flakes, Epson salt is also beneficial.
When the body misses this vital mineral, all sorts of things can go wrong, including muscle spasms. Magnesium can help relax contracted muscles. Magnesium bath flakes, or bath salts, are a form of transdermal magnesium (a method of mineral supplementation designed to deliver magnesium through the skin for rapid absorption into the cells). The bath water’s warmth assists with opening the skin pores and cells for better absorption.
Healthy Diet, No Back Pain
Be sure to keep up with your water intake and stay hydrated. Clean water is essential because it flushes out toxins in every aspect of the body. It also enhances circulation. Improved circulation is vital for getting necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to muscles through the bloodstream. In addition to breathing, water also provides oxygen in the body. It helps blood cells move more freely throughout the body to deliver oxygen to all other cells, muscles cells included. If the water in your area is not the best, there are some great water filters available that you can attach to your sink for convenience and will last a year before needing to change.
Magnesium-rich foods are spinach, kale, collards, and Swiss chard. Other foods that are a good source are nuts, cereals, spices, and cocoa.
Nutritionally, include more dark leafy greens in your diet—preferably organic. When foods are not organic, you never know what you are genuinely getting. With so many things being added to conventional foods (even fresh vegetables), valuable minerals like magnesium could be stripped out and reduced.
When preparing greens, make an effort to eat them raw (if applicable), juice them, or saute them. Avoid overcooking. It is possible to cook vitamins and minerals out of food. Greens that are rich in magnesium are spinach, kale, collards, and Swiss chard. Other foods that are a good source are nuts, cereals, spices, and cocoa.
The solutions here not only work well to reduce your pain and give you tools to manage them, but they will help to the point of taking your life back and living fully and freely.
Book an Appointment
Once the intense-ness of the pain has settled down, find a massage therapist who is therapeutically inline [UPDATE: since the onset of COVID-19, this option will have to wait until we can safely open the country. The section below, Guided Modality Solutions, is an alternative option]. Ideally, find a therapist specializing in therapeutic specific massage, Neuromuscular massage, Integrated Positional Therapy, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, and Deep Tissue massage. Cranio-Sacral Therapy is a type of energy work than a massage. However, it is a wonderful option if you are not at the stage of receiving a massage. Using a therapist is best because they can determine where the pain is stemming from and work it out.
Firstly with a massage, you get to relax completely, which is essential when working out a spasm. Next, massage will move out the calcium waste that has leaked into the tissues. It will also remove other metabolic waste. By moving out this waste, massage will make space for and move in fresh oxygenated blood and beneficial nutrients to an area to heal and regenerate the muscles.
GUIDED MODALITY SOLUTIONS
If you cannot get to a therapist, there are some things you can do yourself. Massage and Yoga are your best friends when it comes to issues like this. However, if you have been diagnosed with cancer, have blood pressure issues, eye issues, or other possible limitations, it is imperative to read the disclosure below before starting the guided material. If you would like to know any alternative postures, fill out the contact form below.
The best way to do a self-massage for relieving a back spasm is to use a “Pinky” ball. Yes, they are designed for fun. They are also an awesome self-massaging tool. You can roll the ball around the sore area or hold it in place on the pressure point until you feel a release. When rolling the ball around, sometimes you may not want to roll it directly on the sore area – instead, somewhere on the outskirts.
You may feel an intense or the greatest of sensations when pressing a pressure point. Notice I did not say “pain”. If you feel pain, do not do this at all. Rest. However, if it is that “feel good” intense sensation, then deepen your breath. Allow the breath to be full, expanding your whole torso. Do not strain the breath. Even though it’s deep, let the breath be soft and fluid. Most important, when holding a pressure point, imagine that you are bringing the breath specifically into the sensation on the inhale. On the exhale, totally relax into the sensation as you continue to hold the pressure point. Do this several times, then find a new spot to work out.
You can always come back to the same points if you want to. Go back and forth between rolling and pressure point hold. This action will break up tissue adhesion that may have formed to protect the muscle group but is no longer needed. Rolling and holding pressure points also move out calcium waste and other metabolic waste. Doing this will encourage fresh, oxygenated blood, and other useful nutrients to flood the area for a better healing process. Using the breath with this process is vital. Whatever you do, do not stop the breath.
The Wall as Your Therapist
For traction and resistance, use a wall or the floor. If you don’t currently have a Pinky ball, you can use the corner of a door jam. Just keep in mind that the wall has less give than the ball and could be too intense, so do not press too hard. You want to avoid bruising or overly traumatizing the muscles more – especially with spasms.
When You Don’t Have Anything Else
If you can reach the area with your hands, take your thumb, knuckles, or fist (start in slowly) and progressively press straight into the sore spot with a stagnant hold. Then do slow circles, deepen your breath (using pranayama) and be patient. Do not try to overwork it, press in too hard, or be too fast and harsh. If you are using your thumb, press straight in with the tip of the thumb and avoid bending the thumb backward. Of course, if you have a loved one who is willing to help you with a massage, be sure to communicate precisely about what you need and don’t need so that they will not re-injure the area.
GUIDED YOGA AND MOVEMENT
Yoga can achieve three things with this issue.
- It can help to relieve the pain,
- Strengthen the back area to reduce the chances of another experience
- Achieve new posture habits.
As an awareness, Yoga is much more than the postures (asanas); it is a state of mind, developing optimum breathing habits (pranayama), and it is a practice that becomes a lifestyle. If you are in significant pain and are not able to do yoga postures, that is OK. Give yourself some time to rest first and control the immediate pain. In the meantime, do the pranayama and attend to your state of mind. This internal yoga practice builds strength and resilience. In the moment of an episode, modified yoga movements can be helpful. However, when you are able to do a full-on yoga flow, it will be for strengthening and maintenance.
Back Strengthening Yoga Flow
Follow the flow below and enjoy.
MODIFIED DOWNWARD FACING DOG FLOW
Slide for more ↔
SEATED ISOLATION MOVEMENT
Slide for more ↔
ESTABLISHING BETTER POSTURE HABITS WITH YOGA
TADASANA & HALF MOON SERIES
Slide for more ↔
SEATED SPINAL TWIST
Remember, this is for back maintenance. Do not over twist. The goal is to bring dynamic movement to the midsection of your body, so relax as much as possible here.
Slide for more ↔
PURE & TOTAL RELAXATION
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Pranayama Tutorial: Dirga & Uji Breaths
Because I am not with you, in-person, to ask about your concerns, medical background, or check-in as you are doing these practices, it is essential to read this section.
Disclosures are imperative to ensure that you stay safe and get the benefits from these suggestions.
With massage: if you have had any lymph nodes removed or are currently on chemotherapy, please check with your doctor about specific massage techniques. Find out whether or not these techniques will interfere with your medical treatments.
With yoga: if you have had any major physical limitation or had recent surgery, be very mindful of your movements and do not overdo-it. Take your time and do micro-movements at first to make sure you can comfortably move in and out of postures.
If you have high, uncontrolled blood pressure, consult with your physician first. Also, there are inversion postures in this flow. If you have glaucoma, cataracts, or any major eye issues, skip those postures. With these conditions, avoid putting your head below your heart, like in inversion postures.
If the pain in your back does not come in waves or does not go away in a few hours or days, call your doctor right away. There may be other issues taking place that is not specifically “muscle spasm.” If the pain feels deeper, internal, and just on either side of the low back right under the lower ribs, it could be your kidneys, a kidney or gall bladder stone, or UTI. These issues are doctor worthy and vital to deal with early.
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This book is an added resource and a must-read for establishing a healthier posture and relieving pain without medication. Available through Amazon.com. Click on the book to purchase.
Featured Photo Copyright: olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo, Diagram Copyright: alila / 123RF Stock Photo, Diagram Copyright: lello4d / 123RF Stock Photo, Diagram Copyright: hfsimaging / 123RF Stock Photo
Information: Book Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice, Third Edition. Salvo, S.G. Saunders Elsevier