Health Conditions A-Z Chronic Pain Why Back Spasms Happen—And How to Treat Them By Jessica Toscano Jessica Toscano Jessica Toscano's Instagram Jessica Toscano's Twitter Jessica Toscano's Website Jessica Toscano is the founder and editor-in-chief of IntrigueMag, which covers health, fitness, sex, relationships, and more. In addition to Health, she's a contributor to Cosmopolitan, Men's Health, SELF, SHAPE Magazine, SheKnows, and InsideHook, among others. health's editorial guidelines Published on March 31, 2023 Medically reviewed by Forest Miller, MSOT Medically reviewed by Forest Miller, MSOT Forest Miller, MSOT, is an occupational therapist specializing in geriatric rehabilitation and treating conditions affecting people's upper extremities. learn more Share this page on Facebook Share this page on Twitter Share this page on Pinterest Email this page In This Article View All In This Article Causes Treatment Time to Recovery When to See a Healthcare Provider Prevention Kateryna Onyshchuk / Getty Images Back spasms are sudden, involuntary contractions of the muscles that can cause lower back pain. Pain from a spasm can vary in intensity and may feel like tightness in the form of a knot or cramp that typically lasts from a few seconds to several minutes. Although symptoms can recur, they are usually short-term and last two to four weeks. You may get back spasms for a variety of reasons, but most often the spasms are from tweaking your back in some way. Thankfully, there are things you can do to help relieve the pain. Back Spasms Causes The exact cause of most back spasms is unknown. In some cases, they may be the result of an underlying condition such as spasticity, an increased stiffness in the muscles caused by damage to the nerve pathways in the brain or spinal cord. Most known causes of back spasms are induced by an external force on the muscles that causes stress, strain, or injury to any part of the bones, spinal ligaments, intervertebral discs, facet joints (what connect the bones of the spine), spinal cord, spinal nerves, or paraspinal muscles. Common culprits include: Lifting something heavyBeing overactiveMaking a sudden movementSitting for long periods Having poor postureExperiencing stress Editor’s Note Back pain is one of the most common causes for emergency room visits in the U.S. In fact, nearly 90% of adults experience back pain at least once during their lifetime. Of those, 84% have back spasms. Treatments for Back Spasms Getting rest and making changes to your activity are usually key in treating pain from back spasms. On top of that, in most instances, back spasms can be treated with non-invasive procedures designed to help ease lower back pain caused by stress and strain. Non-invasive treatments may include: Hot or Cold Compress When there’s stress on the lumbar spine, which is made up of five bones in the lower back, swelling in the surrounding muscles and tissues can lead to pain and spasms. Cold compresses like ice packs can reduce the initial swelling by constricting blood vessels and decreasing circulation. Heat, like in the form of a heating pad, can block the processing of pain by activating the nerve endings that signal to pain receptors. Anti-inflammatories Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen) have been shown to be effective at relieving lower back pain. This could be due to NSAIDs’ anti-inflammatory effect, which pain relievers like Tylenol (acetaminophen) do not have. Muscle Relaxants Acute pain that is more severe or interferes with quality of life might require muscle relaxants such as baclofen or carisoprodol to, as their name suggests, relax the muscles. Due to their sedation effect, muscle relaxants may also be prescribed in cases when acute back pain disrupts sleep. However, their purpose is for short-term use and should not be taken for more than a few weeks at a time to avoid possible misuse. Physical Therapy With the help of a healthcare provider, physical therapy exercises can strengthen core muscles that support the lower back, increase mobility and flexibility, and improve posture to reduce the risk of back spasm recurrence. Specifically, the McKenzie back exercises appear to be beneficial. This approach to physical therapy includes focusing on posture and repeating exercises that target your area of pain. Acupuncture Acupuncture, the ancient Chinese practice of placing needles in certain points of the body to help with a number of health issues. Pain, including back pain, is one of the main reasons people use acupuncture. The technique is considered one of the first-line treatments for acute back pain. How Long Does it Take for Back Spasms to Go Away? Back spasms are described as acute, or short term. Each episode can occur for a few seconds or several minutes and may repeat several times for up to six weeks. Most back spasms disappear on their own in two to four weeks. Under stress and strain, they can reoccur. When to See a Healthcare Provider Most back spasms are not the result of a serious, underlying condition. However, back pain that persists beyond six weeks after an acute injury should receive medical attention to determine more severe causes, such as herniated disc (ruptured bone disc) and spinal stenosis (pinched nerve near the spinal cord), which can be identified using X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Other signs and symptoms that can indicate the worsening of a medical condition and the need for medical attention include: Less joint flexibility Difficulty moving or getting upWorsened pain Preventing Back Spasms When regularly practiced, these prevention methods can help back spasms from recurring: Engage in Strengthening Exercises When performed regularly, muscle-strengthening exercises can increase lumbar spine support, which can, in turn, improve flexibility of the muscles and ligaments in the back to increase motion. Aerobic exercises like walking and swimming have also been shown to increase blood flow and nutrients to the soft tissues in the back, which can promote healing and reduce muscle stiffness. It’s recommended you partake in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week for a noticeable difference. Practice Good Posture Research has shown that workers who spend most of their days sitting are more likely to experience lower back pain. This was especially true for those who sat for more than two hours per day and slouched in front of a computer. This may be because physical inactivity causes the spaces in the spine to narrow, which can compress the spinal cord and nerve roots, resulting in pain. When possible, alternate between standing and sitting, with your back straight and shoulders back. Lift Responsibly Heavy lifting and improper technique can contort the lumbar spine and lead to injury. Keeping the back straight, knees slightly bent, and using your legs—not your back—to lift can protect the spine from unnecessary curvature and strain. Avoiding carrying beyond physical capacity can also help prevent overexertion. Maintain an Optimal Weight Excess weight, especially around the abdomen, chest, shoulder and nape of the neck, can cause increased stress on the lumbar spine structures (in the lower back) and lead to unnecessary strain. Strain of the lumbar spine can cause swelling in the surrounding muscles and tissues and lead to pain and spasms. A complete diet, regular exercise, quality sleep, and stress reduction can help maintain a healthy weight. A Quick Review Back spasms occur when muscles sporadically tighten from excessive stress, strain, or pressure on or near the spine. External forces like poor posture, overexertion and stress, or underlying conditions like spinal stenosis can cause back spasms. Although spasm episodes only last between a few seconds and several minutes, they can come and go for up to six weeks. This form of muscle contraction can be alleviated with non-invasive treatments like hot and cold compresses, anti-inflammatory medications, and acupuncture. Doing core strengthening exercises, maintaining a good posture, and maintaining a healthy weight may help prevent muscle spasms from happening. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit 21 Sources Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Vaughan, SA, Torres K, Kaye R. Resume-1: A phase III study of tolperisone in the treatment of painful, acute muscle spasms of the back. Pain Manag. 2021;12(1):25-33. doi:10.2217/pmt-2021-0041 Bordoni B, Sugumar K, Varacallo M. Muscle cramps. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022 National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Spasticity. El Sayed M, Callahan AL. Mechanical back strain. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. Casiano VE, Sarwan G, Dydyk AM, Varacallo M. Back pain. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. MedlinePlus. Low back pain - acute. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Noninvasive treatments for low back pain. Freiwald J, Magni A, Fanlo-Mazas P, et al. A role for superficial heat therapy in the management of non-specific, mild-to-moderate low back pain in current clinical practice: A narrative review. Life. 2021;11(8):780. doi:10.3390/life11080780 Chou R, Deyo R, Friedly J, et al. Systemic pharmacologic therapies for low back pain: A systematic review for an American College of Physicians clinical practice guideline. Ann Intern Med. 2017;166(7):480–492. doi:10.7326/M16-2458 Witenko C, Moorman-Li R, Motycka C, et al. Considerations for the appropriate use of skeletal muscle relaxants for the management of acute low back pain. P T. 39(6):427–435. Mann SJ, Lam JC, Singh P. McKenzie back exercises. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2023. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine. Acupuncture: What you need to know. Gordon R, Bloxham S. A systematic review of the effects of exercise and physical activity on non-specific chronic low back pain. Healthcare (Basel). 2016;4(2):22. doi:10.3390/healthcare4020022 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Prevent back pain. Hanna F, Daas RN, El-Shareif TJ, Al-Marridi HH, Al-Rojoub ZM, Adegboye OA. The relationship between sedentary behavior, back pain, and psychosocial correlates among university employees. Front Public Health. 2019;7:80. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2019.00080 Teichtahl AJ, Urquhart DM, Wang Y. et al. Physical inactivity is associated with narrower lumbar intervertebral discs, high fat content of paraspinal muscles and low back pain and disability. Arthritis Res Ther. 2015;17:114. doi: 10.1186/s13075-015-0629-y Jung KS, Jung JH, In TS, Cho HY. Effects of prolonged sitting with slumped posture on trunk muscular fatigue in adolescents with and without chronic lower back pain. Medicina (Kaunas), 2020;57(1):3. doi:10.3390/medicina57010003 Fares MY, Fares J, Salhab HA, Khachfe HH, Bdeir A, Fares Y. Low back pain among weightlifting adolescents and young adults. Cureus. 2020;12(7):e9127. doi:10.7759/cureus.9127 Chou L, Brady SRE, Urquhart DM, et al. The association between obesity and low back pain and disability is affected by mood disorders: A population-based, cross-sectional study of men. Medicine (Baltimore). 2016;95(15):e3367. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000003367 American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Low back strain and sprain. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy weight, nutrition, and physical activity.