Call Today! (888) 457-6532

Start Your Assessment

Physical Therapy for Back Pain | What Is a Back Spasm?


What Is a Back Spasm? What You Need To Know To Effectively Manage Pain

What is a back spasm? Most likely you’ll know it the moment it happens. You could be lifting a heavy object, in the middle of a game or, the complete opposite, simply bending over to tie your shoe or reach a pencil on the floor.

In any case, one may experience a sudden, sharp pain, often in the lower back. Triggered by an involuntary muscle contraction, the back-muscle spasm can be so painful and intense that it becomes severely debilitating. But, thankfully, they can be treatable.

Let’s take a look at some common causes of back spasms and what to do if you experience one.

What Causes Back Spasms?

Strains of back muscles or tendons tend to be one of the most common causes of back spasms. Other possible causes could be ligament sprains, a bulging disc that is pressing against a nerve. Skeletal irregularities (such as scoliosis or lordosis), can make you at a greater risk of these injuries. Pregnancy can also make women more vulnerable to muscular spasms in the back due to weight gain in the abdominal region and shifted center of gravity.

Additionally, tired and weak muscles tend to be more prone to back spasms. Individuals who lack flexibility and poor core control have a greater chance or low back injuries. Tight hamstrings along with weak lower back and abdominal muscles add up to an individual more likely to experience back pain as compared to a flexible person with good core control.

What Does a Back Spasm Feel Like?

Back spasms occur when the muscles tense up and contract uncontrollably. Sometimes the pain is mild and more of an inconvenience, other times, it’s so intensely painful that it becomes debilitating. Back spasms often occur in the lower back, but the pain can radiate to other parts of the body such as the hips or legs.

Other symptoms of back spasms may include:

  • Lower back tension
  • Difficulty moving after bending over or sitting down
  • Acute pain in the lower back
  • Constant pain
  • Weakness
  • Cramping sensations that come and go

What To Do If You Experience a Back Muscle Spasm?

If you ever experience a back spasm, it’s helpful to know what to do, as it can become quite incapacitating. The following tips may help to relieve some pain when it comes on suddenly. These include:

Find Relief

The best thing to do if you experience a back muscle spasm is to find a position that’s less painful. You may find that lying on a firm surface takes the edge off when you’re trying to sleep at night. Many people lie on their side with a pillow between their knees or on their back with a pillow under their legs. Don’t forget to support the neck as well to take stress off the spine.


Use an ice pack for approximately 15 minutes, 3-4 times a day for the first couple of days after you first experience the back spasm. Cold applications not only help to dull the pain, but also may reduce inflammation. Alternatively, consider using moist heat to enhance circulation and improve comfort. Everyone’s body is different in how they respond. An alternating ice/heat application may also work for you.


Once the spasm episodes have passed and inflammation has subsided, focus on what you can do to prevent it from occurring again. Try not to stay completely immobile. Slow, limited range of motion is better than total bed rest in most cases. Regular walking sessions have been demonstrated to be beneficial in prevention and rehabilitation of back injuries.

Once pain becomes somewhat tolerable, incorporate stretching into your day, for example. You can also consider walking slowly for a few minutes at a time and build up. Strength training and regular exercise is important; just remember to choose an activity that you enjoy so you’ll commit to doing them on a regular basis.

At the same time, decrease your chances of furthering the injury by avoiding heavy lifting and limiting any activity that leads to more pain. If you need to pick an item up, bend your knees to use your legs and not you back. Also place a hand on a surface or a thigh to help distribute the weight being lifted over a wider area then through the back. Always lift with your hands in front of you. “Nose over toes” is a good motto to remember and practice to decrease the risk of injury.

Massage may also be helpful to help reduce tension, calm the spasm and address trigger points.

If Back Spasms Continue

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people avoid prescription drugs, especially opioids, for back pain unless other remedies have failed. Even in situations when opioids are prescribed, the CDC recommends that patients should receive “the lowest effective dosage,” and opioids “should be combined” with nonopioid therapies, such as physical therapy.

When the root cause is not addressed, back spasms can create a self-replicating cycle which can lead to further spasming and even more pain. So, if back spasms or pain continue, or increase, or along with numbness begin traveling down your limbs, a physical therapist can work with you to restore healthy movement patterns and heal faster.

Treatment includes both passive and active therapies and will vary depending on individual needs. Your physical therapist may give you treatments such as hot and cold therapies, hands-on stretching, postural correction, joint mobilization, deep tissue massage, Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and/or ultrasound.

Your therapist may also suggest a personalized exercise and stretching program for you. The overall goal is to calm the cycle of spasms and control the pain. Once that is under control, your physical therapist will work on rebuilding strength and mobility to allow you to move normally again. Throughout the process, your therapist will educate you on how to perform daily activities properly to reduce future flare ups of back spasms.

Read More: Spine Rehab Common Questions >>
Read More: Common Complaints for Dealing with Back Pain >>

Physical Therapy Treatment for Back Muscle Spasms

Although back pain is common, that doesn’t make it any less painful. Pain-free motion is the goal, and a physical therapist can help you accomplish that.

As one of the best physical therapy centers in NJ, Twin Boro utilizes a unique One2Four approach to help patients find the relief they need. Call the skilled experts at1-888-416-8001 or schedule an appointment to learn more about Twin Boro Physical Therapy in NJ and a treatment plan made specifically for you.

Find out more about Spinal Orthopaedic Rehab >>
Find out more about Neurological Physical Therapy >>

Twin Boro Physical Therapy: Voted Readers’ Choice Best of New Jersey

Voted Readers’ Choice Best of New Jersey, Twin Boro has provided NJ residents with high quality physical therapy and rehab for over 38 years! It’s our award-winning approach, proven results and reputation that sets us apart. By incorporating the One2Four program into each patient’s program, the latest and most reliable scientific research and techniques are incorporated into effective evidence-based practice. We deliver only the highest standard of care with the unique One2Four approach.

It’s no surprise that Twin Boro Physical Therapy has also been voted the best physical therapy practice in New Jersey by the readers of