A back spasm is sudden tightness and pain in your back muscles. It may happen from overuse or an injury. Things like sleeping in an awkward way, bending, lifting, standing, or sitting can sometimes cause a spasm. But the cause isn't always clear.
Home treatment includes using heat or ice, taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines, and avoiding activities that may cause back pain.
For a back spasm that doesn't get better with home care, your doctor may prescribe medicine. Treatments such as massage or manipulation may also help ease a back spasm. Your doctor may also suggest exercise or physical therapy to help improve strength and flexibility in your back muscles.
In most cases, getting back to your normal activities is good for your back. Just make sure to avoid doing things that make your pain worse.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
How can you care for yourself at home?
Heat, ice, and medicines
- To relieve pain, use heat or ice (whichever feels better) on the affected area.
- Try using a heating pad on a low or medium setting for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. Put a thin cloth between the heating pad and your skin. Do not go to sleep with a heating pad on your skin.
- Try ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
- For most back pain you can take over-the-counter pain medicine. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen seem to work best. But if you can't take NSAIDs you can try acetaminophen. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
Body positions and posture
- Sit or lie in positions that are most comfortable for you and that reduce pain. Try one of these positions when you lie down:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and supported by large pillows.
- Lie on the floor with your legs on the seat of a sofa or chair.
- Lie on your side with your knees and hips bent and a pillow between your legs.
- Lie on your stomach if it does not make pain worse.
- Avoid bed rest after the first day of back pain. Bed rest can help relieve pain at first, but it delays healing. Continued rest without activity is usually not good for your back.
- If you must sit for long periods of time, take breaks from sitting. Change positions every 30 minutes. Get up and walk around, or lie in a comfortable position.
- Take short walks several times a day. You can start with 5 to 10 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day, and work up to longer walks. Walk on level surfaces and avoid hills and stairs until your back starts to feel better.
- After your back spasm starts to feel better, try to stretch your muscles every day, especially before and after exercise and at bedtime. Regular stretching can help relax your muscles.
- To prevent future back pain, do exercises to stretch and strengthen your back and stomach. Learn to use good posture, safe lifting techniques, and other ways to move to help you avoid back pain.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You are unable to move an arm or a leg at all.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have new or worse symptoms in your legs, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
- Numbness or tingling.
- You lose bladder or bowel control.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You have a fever, lose weight, or don't feel well.
- You do not get better as expected.
Where can you learn more?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter E232 in the search box to learn more about "Back Spasm: Care Instructions".
Current as of: November 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Steven J. Atlas MD, MPH - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Joan Rigg PT, OCS - Physical Therapy