Facts on Upper & Low Back Spasms & Pain

Facts on Upper Back Spasms & Pain

What causes painful upper back spasms?
Pain in the upper back is usually the result of poor posture, muscle overuse, or injury. Treatment may include home remedies, such as rest and gentle exercises, or possibly seeing a physical therapist. The upper back is the area between the base of the neck and the bottom of the ribcage.
What does an upper back spasm feel like?
You will experience pain and cramp or stiffness in the affected muscle. This is often in the upper back area and may extend to the neck and shoulders. Redness and swelling may be visible and you could find it difficult to move the area without significant pain and discomfort.
Common causes of upper back pain

Though it is less common than lower back pain or neck pain, a study posted to Occupational Medicine indicated that 1 in 10 men and 1 in 5 women might suffer from upper back pain.

What is the difference between a spasm and pain?
A muscle spasm will usually relax on its own quite quickly. Cramps can last much longer, but often eventually relax with a bit of gentle massage or stretching. Muscle strains generally affect the way the muscle functions, and will likely cause pain each time the muscle is actively used.

Muscle spasm facts

  • Spasms can affect many different types of muscles in the body, leading to many different symptoms.
  • Spasms of skeletal muscles are most common and are often due to overuse and muscle fatigue, dehydration, and electrolyte abnormalities. The spasm occurs abruptly, is painful, and is usually short-lived. It may be relieved by gently stretching the muscle.
  • If muscle spasms are especially painful, if they do not resolve, or if they recur, medical care should be accessed to look for other possible underlying causes.
  • Smooth muscles that are within the walls of hollow organs (like the colon) can go into spasm, causing significant pain. Often this pain is colicky, meaning that it comes and goes. Examples include the pain associated with menstrual cramps, diarrhea, gallbladder pain, and passing a kidney stone.
  • A special form of muscle spasms in the dystonias where an abnormality perhaps exists with the chemicals that help transmit signals within the brain. Examples include torticollis and blepharospasm. Treatment may include medications to help restore the neurotransmitter levels to normal and Botox injections to paralyze the affected muscle and relieve the spasm.

A muscle spasm, or muscle cramp, is an involuntary contraction of a muscle. Muscle spasms occur suddenly, usually resolve quickly, and are often painful.

A muscle spasm is different than a muscle twitch. A muscle twitch, or fasciculation, is an uncontrolled fine movement of a small segment of a larger muscle that can be seen under the skin.

There are a variety of causes of muscle spasms, and each depends upon predisposing factors, the part of the body involved, and the environment that the body is in.

Spasms may occur when a muscle is overused, tired, previously injured, or strained.

  • The spasm may occur if the muscle has been overstretched or if it has been held in the same position for a prolonged period of time.
  • In effect, the muscle cell runs out of energy and fluid and becomes hyperexcitable, resulting in a forceful contraction.
  • This spasm may involve part of a muscle, the whole muscle, or even adjacent muscles.

Overuse as a cause of skeletal muscle spasm is often seen in athletes who are doing strenuous exercise in a hot environment.

  • This is also an occupational issue with construction workers or others working in a hot environment.
  • Usually, the spasms will occur in the large muscles that are strained, being asked to do the work.
  • When this occurs associated with heat exposure, the condition is also known as heat cramps.

Overuse can also occur with routine daily activities like shoveling snow or mowing or raking grass, causing muscle spasms of the neck, shoulder, and back.

Dehydration: A Common Cause of Muscle Cramps

As the level of water loss increases, more symptoms can become apparent. The following are further signs and symptoms of dehydration.

  • Dry mouth
  • The eyes stop making tears
  • Sweating may stop
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting

Doctors call upper back pain thoracic spine pain or TSP. Common causes include the following:

1. Muscle deconditioning and poor posture

People can condition their muscles over time to be stronger or more enduring through exercises and weight training.

The reverse is also true. Humans may decondition their muscles over time by not using them correctly.

In some muscles, including back muscles, deconditioning is as easy as sitting at a desk with incorrect posture for too long. A person may do this while at work.

Slouching in a chair over a desk may cause a loss of strength in the muscles. Over time, the weakening of muscles may lead to pain in the area as they experience strains or irritation.

When a person slouches, pressure from gravity and the body itself pushes on the spine, neck, discs, and ligaments. Over time, this pressure can lead to pain and other complications.

It is possible to condition the muscles to be stronger and more durable in most cases. This process starts with correcting the posture while sitting, and taking regular breaks from the desk to move around and stretch.

Exercises may also improve strength in the back, and using a standing desk can help, too.

Conditioning the muscle requires patience, however, and anyone with chronic upper back pain from weak muscles might benefit from seeing a physical therapist to find an exercise routine for their specific needs.

2. Muscle overuse

Overusing back muscles is another common cause of upper back pain. This typically occurs due to repeating the same motions over time. This can be a cause of:

  • muscle strain
  • tightness
  • irritation

The classic example of how this occurs is a pitcher in baseball, who does a similar motion every time they pitch, which can often take a toll on their shoulder.

Other repetitive activities may cause similar pain. Someone who has to make the same motion all day, or lifts things above their head throughout the day, for example, may start to experience muscle irritation, tightness, or strain. This could turn into chronic pain if they ignore these signs.

Treatment for muscle overuse typically begins with resting the area, as well as using heat or ice packs to promote blood circulation to the muscle tissues. It may help to find ways to avoid the repeated motion where possible or to take breaks between activities.

A physical therapist may recommend exercises to promote flexibility and strength in the area.

3. Traumatic injury

A traumatic injury can also lead to back pain. This may be the result of situations that include:

  • car accidents
  • slipping and falling
  • work-related accidents
  • lifting incorrectly
  • working out too hard

The injury is sometimes obvious, and pain appears just after the incident. At other times, the pain may not develop until later or the next day.

Traumatic injuries can be severe, and issues from injuries, for example, fractured vertebrae, put a person at risk of lasting complications, including chronic pain, nerve damage, and paralysis.

A doctor should look at all potential back injuries as it is vital that they heal properly to avoid long-term pain.

A doctor may refer the person to a physiologist or physical therapist to help muscle injuries heal properly. Severe injuries may require surgery.

4. Herniated disc

Herniated discs are more common in the lower back but may sometimes happen in the upper back too.

Discs are the soft, rubbery cushions between each vertebra. Herniated discs occur when a piece of this cushion pokes through and puts pressure on the spine.

Even a small amount of pressure can result in significant pain in the middle of the back, as well as other symptoms, including numbness or weakness in the arms or legs.

Most people do not need surgery for herniated discs and will recover with rest or by taking anti-inflammatory medications.

5. Pinched nerve

A herniated disc can slip far enough out that it compresses the nearby nerve. A pinched nerve in the middle back may cause:

  • numbness and pain in the arms or legs
  • problems with controlling urination
  • weakness or loss of control in the legs

When a pinched nerve comes from a herniated disc, the treatment is similar to treating the herniated disc. A pinched nerve does not usually need surgery, though doctors may recommend spinal steroid injections in some cases.

6. Osteoarthritis

The source of back pain is sometimes not the muscles, but a problem in the bones and joints.

The cartilage that cushions and protects the bones may wear down as a person ages. The term for this is osteoarthritis. It is the most common form of arthritis among older adults, according to the United States National Institute on Aging.

Osteoarthritis may eventually lead to the cartilage between the bones completely wearing away, causing the bones to rub together. This can also put pressure on the nerves in the spine, causing numbness or tingling in the arms and legs.

Anyone who suspects they have osteoarthritis should see a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan. Treatment typically focuses on managing pain and keeping the joints functioning.

7. Myofascial pain

Pain may also stem from problems in the connective tissue in the back, which doctors call the fascia.

Myofascial pain may begin after an injury or overuse, but chronic myofascial pain may last long after the initial injury.

It is still uncertain why myofascial pain continues in some cases. Doctors may recommend physical therapy and myofascial release therapy to enable a person to work the fascia and relieve the pain.

8. Spinal infection

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat a spinal infection.

Rarely, an infection may be the cause of upper back pain. A spinal epidural abscess is a collection of germs and pus that form between the spinal cord and bones of the spine.

The abscess can grow and swell, leading to pain. Early diagnosis is critical, and doctors will treat a spinal abscess quickly to avoid serious complications.

Antibiotics may help, and surgery may be necessary to clear the abscess and reduce the risk of complications.

A study posted to BioMed Research International notes that mortality can vary from 2 to 25 percent trusted sources in people with spinal epidural abscess, typically, because it may take too long to diagnose their condition.

9. Lung cancer

Back pain may be due to lung cancer in very rare cases.

A case study in the Journal of the Advanced Practitioner in Oncology highlights one such case. The study notes that complications can cause cancer to spread to the bones in about 30 to 40 percent trusted Source of people with non-small cell lung cancer.

Other Conditions

Specific conditions affecting the spine or muscles may also lead to upper back pain. These include:

  • scoliosis
  • fibromyalgia
  • spinal deformity
  • problematic kyphosis

Treatment for each condition varies and will have varying degrees of success.

Facts on Lower Back Spasms & Pain

There are many possible causes for lower back spasms, including poor posture, muscle overuse, and sprains and strains. People who experience recurring or worsening spasms or pain should see a doctor for an assessment. A lower back spasm usually feels like a muscle is firmly contracting or moving.

How do I stop my lower back from spasming?
Preventing lower back spasms
  1. maintain good posture throughout the day.
  2. keep up a good sitting posture when spending a long time at a desk.
  3. use a medium-softness mattress.
  4. lift heavy objects with the legs, not the back.
How long does it take for lower back spasms to heal?
A back spasm can occur after any type of strain or injury to the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, or ligaments) in the spine. This type of soft tissue injury typically heals enough within a week or two for the muscle spasms to stop.
How long do back spasms usually last?
How Long Do Back Spasms Last? Most episodes of back spasms last for only a few days. Some severe cases last about six to eight weeks, but spasms and pain should subside gradually over that time period, allowing you to move normally and get back to your normal activity.
How do you get rid of back spasms fast?
Here are some things to try:
  1. Stretching. Stretching the area that has the muscle spasm can usually help improve or stop the spasm from occurring. …
  2. Massage. …
  3. Ice or heat. …
  4. Hydration. …
  5. Mild exercise. …
  6. Nonprescription remedies. …
  7. Topical creams that are anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving. …
  8. Hyperventilation.
When should I be worried about back spasms?
You should see a doctor for muscle spasms if you encounter any of the following situations: Any muscle spasms that are occurring regularly. Muscle spasms that are not resolving on their own with rest, hydration, and proper nutrition. Any pain or injury that you have as a result of a muscle spasm, especially back spasms.
How do you tell if lower back pain is muscle or disc?
Your doctor can perform a neurological exam to check muscle strength, reflexes, walking ability, and the ability to feel touch. Imaging tests may be ordered to diagnose the cause of your pain. A CT scan shows cross-sectional images of the spinal column and can pinpoint a herniated disc.
What is the fastest way to heal a lower back strain?
To speed the healing, you should:
  1. Ice your back to reduce pain and swelling as soon as you injure yourself. …
  2. Apply heat to your back — but only after 2-3 days of icing it first. …
  3. Take painkillers or other drugs, if recommended by your doctor. …
  4. Use support.
What is the fastest way to heal a lower back strain?
  1. Ice your back to reduce pain and swelling as soon as you injure yourself. …
  2. Apply heat to your back — but only after 2-3 days of icing it first. …
  3. Take painkillers or other drugs, if recommended by your doctor. …
  4. Use support.

Why are my back muscles spasming?

A back spasm is a 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.
Is a heating pad good for back spasms?
Heat increases the blood flow and circulation to stressed or painful tissues and joints. Heat also loosens tight trigger points and softens muscles to decrease stiffness and increase flexibility. If you’re experiencing muscle spasms or chronic back pain, place a heating pad in the area for 15-20 minutes to reduce pain.
What can I take for back spasms?
Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and muscle relaxants may help relieve symptoms while the muscles heal. Research supports that muscle relaxants provide significant pain relief in short-term muscle spasms. Injections of anti-inflammatory medication (cortisone) may also help.
How do you sleep with back spasms?
Try sleeping with a pillow between or underneath your legs for extra support. If you sleep on your side, put the pillow between your knees and draw them up slightly toward your chest. If you like to sleep on your back, try the pillow under your knees, or roll up a small towel and place it under the small of your back.
Is ice good for back spasms?
Put an ice pack on your back for 10 to 20 minutes to reduce nerve activity, pain, and swelling. And be sure to wrap the ice pack in a towel to protect your skin.
Benefits of Massage Therapy for Upper Back and Lower Back Spasms & Pain

Massage improves blood circulation, which aids in the recovery of muscle soreness from physical activity. Massage relaxes muscles for an improved range of motion. Muscle relaxation also helps with insomnia. Massage leads to increased endorphin levels.

An upper back massage helps reduce muscle tightness, tension, and pain in the upper back. During an upper back massage, muscles increase in temperature, improving tissue elasticity which reduces tightness and tension in the muscles. An increase in temperature also causes an increase in blood circulation.

Does massage help lower back spasms?

To soothe a muscle spasm, press on the affected area for 30–60 seconds, then rub the surrounding area in a circular motion. Firm massage may be uncomfortable, but should not be painful. If you feel a pulse on the area you are massaging, do not apply pressure. Both heat and ice can relieve the pain of a muscle spasm. Massage therapy can provide substantial healing and pain relief for many lower back problems. Specifically, for pain caused by a back strain, when the correct muscle is targeted, the pain can be controlled at its source—for quicker and lasting relief.
Should I get a massage for back spasms?
Massage therapy can provide substantial healing and pain relief for many lower back problems. Specifically, for pain caused by a back strain, when the correct muscle is targeted, the pain can be controlled at its source—for quicker and lasting relief.
What type of massage is best for upper back pain?
One of the best types of massage for this type of pain is trigger point therapy. Upper back pain may be a result of knots developing in the area around and in between your shoulder blades. Trigger point therapy can target these knots to work through the fibers causing pain and tension.
Does massage therapy Help back pain?
Massage can be a helpful add-on to conventional medical care for back pain. It can reduce discomfort and get you back on your feet faster. It can take weeks to months to completely recover from a flare-up of low back pain.
How do you relieve back spasms?
Here are some things to try:
  1. Stretching. Stretching the area that has the muscle spasm can usually help improve or stop the spasm from occurring. …
  2. Massage. …
  3. Ice or heat. …
  4. Hydration. …
  5. Mild exercise. …
  6. Nonprescription remedies. …
  7. Topical creams that are anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving. …
  8. Hyperventilation.
Why does my back spasm after a massage?
It’s normal to feel sore after a massage. The technique carries blood and nutrients to your muscles while eliminating toxins. After stimulating muscles that you may not usually use, you might experience delayed onset muscle soreness. This is a physical response to the inflammation as your body heals.
What is better for a pinched nerve massage or chiropractor?
Massage works to ease the pressure that is felt on a pinched nerve. This works for nerves that are pinched from muscular tissue. For pinched nerves caused by bone, it’s best to seek the help of LAX chiropractic to manipulate the bones back into their correct position.
Should I get a massage for upper back pain?
Muscle tension can result in pain if not treated. An upper back massage gets deep into the muscle tissues and helps the muscle relax and therefore relieve tension. By relieving tension, pain in the upper back is significantly reduced. Increased healing is a benefit gained from having an upper back massage.
What is the best medicine for back spasms?
Some of the most commonly used muscle relaxants are Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), Metaxalone (Skelaxin), and Tizanidine (Zanaflex). These drugs work by helping to ease spasms in the muscles.
How long does it take to recover from back spasms?
A back spasm can occur after any type of strain or injury to the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, or ligaments) in the spine. This type of soft tissue injury typically heals enough within a week or two for the muscle spasms to stop.
Is heat good for nerve pain?
Nerve Pain

It’s best to use cold when the pain is still sharp and move on to heat once that sharpness has subsided. The heat will increase blood flow and help tissues heal faster.
What vitamin helps with muscle spasms?
People who have regular muscle pain or spasms might be deficient in vitamin D. This vitamin comes in many forms, including liquids, tablets, and capsules. You can also get it in foods like eggs, fish, and fortified milk. Getting regular exposure to sunlight is another way to get vitamin D!
What foods stop muscle spasms?
Here are 12 foods that may help with muscle cramps.
  • Avocado. Avocados are creamy, delicious fruits that are packed with nutrients that may help prevent muscle cramps. …
  • Watermelon. One possible cause of muscle cramps is dehydration. …
  • Coconut water. …
  • Sweet potato. …
  • Greek yogurt. …
  • Bone broth. …
  • Papaya. …
  • Beet greens.

Can B12 deficiency cause spasms?

Signs of Vitamin B12 deficiencies include muscle twitching or spasms, as well as numbness and feeling weak.
Does ibuprofen relax muscles?
“OTC NSAIDs, like ibuprofen and naproxen, are a good first-line agent to decrease inflammation surrounding an injury,” recommends Joanna Lewis, Pharm. D., creator of The Pharmacist’s Guide. They might not have the same potency as high-grade muscle relaxants, but they’re still effective and have very few side effects.
Do bananas help back spasms?
You probably know that bananas are a good source of potassium. But they’ll also give you magnesium and calcium. That’s three out of four nutrients you need to ease muscle cramps tucked under that yellow peel. No wonder bananas are a popular, quick choice for cramp relief.
What food causes muscle spasms?
  • Refined carbs like white bread are devoid of nutrients.
  • Excessive red meat consumption is bad due to nitrates.
  • Fast food is full of trans fats.
  • Foods with refined sugar such as packaged muffins are full of artificial ingredients.
  • Salty foods can wreak havoc on the body.


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