What Causes Muscle Spasms in the Lower Back?

If you’ve ever had a muscle spasm in the lower back, you know that the pain can be downright unbearable. That’s because these abnormal muscle contractions trigger a number of surrounding nerve roots in the back, which can lead to feelings of severe pain, stiffness, numbness, and immobility. Understanding what causes muscle spasms can help you prevent and treat them so they don’t keep you from living a full, active life.

doctor checking man back pain

What Are Muscle Spasms?

Muscle spasms are defined as spontaneous muscle contractions that occur throughout the body, often in the lower back but also in the legs, calves, feet, hands, abs, and ribs. When they happen in the calves, they’re often referred to as “charley horses.” These spasms ignite pain and discomfort ranging from mild twitching and slight stiffness to severe pain and a feeling of paralysis. Some sufferers may be able to see the muscle twitching or contracting under the skin. Depending on the extent of the injury and where it occurs, a back spasm may take between a few days and a few months to heal.

What Causes Muscle Spasms?

Muscle spasms happen when a muscle involuntarily contracts and can’t relax. Typically, these involuntary contractions in the back are caused by one of a few things: muscle weakness, injury to a muscle (including muscle strains), or a muscle imbalance. Each of these instances may be brought upon by the following circumstances.
 
  • Not stretching enough before you work out. You probably already know that proper stretching before a workout can help prevent injury and muscle imbalance. Some doctors and physical therapists also recommend doing routine back stretches throughout the day to help prevent random spasms from occurring.
  • Working out too hard without enough breaks. Though we don’t know exactly why, we know that muscle spasms often occur when our muscles get tired. The overworked muscle fibers are susceptible to abnormal twitching and cramping that can cause discomfort and prevent you from working out. Be sure to take routine breaks and let your muscles rest between intense workouts.
  • Not drinking enough water. One thing that happens when you’re dehydrated is that your muscles get zapped of fluid and the tissues become hyperexcitable, effectively forcefully contracting and causing a spasm. Not drinking enough water or consuming food or drinks that lead to dehydration (such as alcohol) can also leave you devoid of certain nutrients, which leads us to the next cause.
  • Not getting the proper nutrients. When you don’t have enough of the proper nutrients in your body, the muscles may start to malfunction. For example, not having the proper amount of electrolytes—including sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium—can affect how your body stores its sources of energy, which can lead to muscle cramps and spasms. Some electrolyte-packed foods include bananas, avocados, beans, sunflower seeds, and lentils.
foods with electrolytes

How to Treat Muscle Spasms

Your muscle spasm treatment plan should be two-pronged. First, you need to develop a back pain therapy program that helps you get through the pain, stiffness, and discomfort each day. Next, you need to take a look at some of the root causes that may be leading to back spasms so that you don’t suffer from them in the future.
 
  • Treat the Pain and Discomfort - First up: symptom relief. One of the best ways to get back to feeling like your best self is to try laser therapy for back pain, such as one of our cutting-edge wearable laser devices that provides temporary relief of muscle spasms. Other temporary pain relief options include stretching, massage therapy, and hydrotherapy, such as relaxing in a warm bath or hot tub.
  • Address the Root Cause - The second thing you should do to treat muscle spasms is attack them from the root. Eliminate any behaviors, habits, or foods that might be causing or worsening your condition. Be sure you’re getting enough water each day, eating electrolyte-rich foods, and working out with muscle recovery in mind to help prevent spasms from recurring.
woman drinking from water bottle
Muscle spasms are among the most common sources of pain in the lower back, and they can be uncomfortable at best and downright debilitating at worst. The good news is, muscle spasms almost always heal themselves in time, so a little bit of patience can help you get through the tough times a bit more easily.
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