Back Spasms: Causes, Treatment & What Is It (2023)


What are back spasms?

A spasm is when your muscles suddenly and against your will. They may painfully twinge, seize or contract. The muscles in your upper, middle and lower back are divided into three types: intrinsic/deep muscles, superficial muscles and intermediate muscles. Lower back spasms are more common, but any muscle can contract.

How common are back spasms?

Around 80% of people in the U.S. have had or will have some sort of back pain in their lives. Back spasms and other back pain are, unfortunately, common.

How do back spasms start?

Back spasms can start with no warning, or they may begin as a mild twitch that builds to agonizing pain.

Who is more likely to get back spasms?

Athletes, those who do heavy lifting and anyone with other types of back pain are more likely to experience back spasms.

How do back spasms affect the rest of my body?

Sometimes pain from a back spasm can “radiate.” This means that the pain starts in your back but moves to other parts of your body like your legs or hips.

Are back spasms a sign of multiple sclerosis?

No, but back spasms are a symptom of other serious diseases like gallstones and ankylosing spondylitis.

Are back spasms a sign of labor?

No. If you’re in labor you’ll feel the muscles in your uterus contract, not your back. But you may have back pain in your lower back as part of back labor.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes back spasms?

There are a number of possible causes for back spasms:

  • Not using your muscles enough. If you sit too much, have poor posture, don’t exercise or rarely use your back or stomach muscles, those muscles can get weak and spasm.
  • Using your muscles too much. Athletes and those who do a lot of heavy lifting may experience back spasms. Such activities can cause a muscle strain, which is a tear, and that can cause inflammation.
  • Dietary issues. Back spasms can be caused by too little water, potassium and/or calcium in your diet.
  • Mental/emotional health issues. Anxiety and stress can tense up your muscles.
  • Trauma. You may injure your back in a fall or car accident.

Sometimes, your back spasms may mean that you have a serious condition, including:

  • Epidural abscess.
  • Gallstones.
  • Stiff person syndrome.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis.
  • Kidney stones.
  • Kidney infection.
  • Tumor.

You’re more likely to experience pain that’s like a back spasm — but isn’t actually a back spasm — if you have any of the following disorders:

  • Spinal arthritis.
  • Herniated disk.
  • Spinal stenosis.
  • Curvature of the spine: scoliosis or lordosis.
  • Spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis.

Can stress cause back spasms?

Yes. Talk to your healthcare provider about a referral to a therapist who can help you manage your stress and anxiety.

Can back spasms cause chest pain?

You should always go to the emergency room if you have chest pain. Pain in your back can sometimes radiate to other parts of your body, but it’s usually to your hips or legs.

What are the symptoms of back spasms?

A back spasm may feel mild like a dull ache or twitch, or it can get so sharp and painful that it’s debilitating.

If you experience any of the following symptoms in addition to back spasms, you should see your healthcare provider right away:

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control.
  • Muscle weakness in arms or legs.
  • Odd sensations, numbness or weakness on one side of your body.
  • Loss of balance and coordination.
  • Loss of a sense of feeling in a limb/limbs.

How long do back spasms last?

If you use your back muscles too much, you may have spasms for a few days. It may take several weeks if there’s a muscle strain.

Diagnosis and Tests

How are back spasms evaluated and diagnosed?

After talking to you about your symptoms and getting a list of your medications, your healthcare provider may ask about your entire medical history. Be sure to mention any trauma to your back. Your provider may diagnose your back spasms based on the symptoms you describe.

Which healthcare providers evaluate and diagnose back spasms?

You can see your primary healthcare provider about your back spasms. If needed, they may send you to a specialist.

What questions might a healthcare provider ask to help diagnose back spasms?

  • What does the pain feel like?
  • Where is the pain located?
  • Have you ever loss control of your bowel or bladder?
  • How long do the spasms last?
  • How often do you have back spasms?
  • Any stiffness?
  • Do you get any tingling or numbness in your body?
  • Do you ever feel weak or uncoordinated when you’re having back spasms?
  • What medications are you taking?

Management and Treatment

How are back spasms treated?

Healthcare providers used to prescribe bed rest for those who deal with back spasms. Such inactivity is no longer recommended. Instead, follow your provider's instructions about the following:

  • Ice/heat: Apply ice or heat to the location of your back spasms. Wrap the ice pack or heating pad in a towel or pillowcase and apply it to your skin for 20 to 30 minutes. Then reapply after 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Over-the-counter pain medications: Over-the-counter pain medications, including acetaminophen (Tylenol®), naproxen (Aleve®) or ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®).
  • Muscle relaxants: Your provider may recommend taking a muscle relaxant like cyclobenzaprine, metaxalone or methocarbamol. If you do take them, take them at night (or when you're not operating a car or heavy machinery) and only for 72 hours or less.
  • Physical therapy: Your healthcare provider might prescribe physical therapy, where you can learn relaxation techniques and stretches for your back muscles.

Are there any side effects of the medications prescribed for back spasms?

The side effects of muscle relaxants include:

  • Confusion.
  • Drowsiness.

Refer to the instructions that come with your prescription regarding dosages and when you can operate a vehicle.

What kind of healthcare provider treats back spasms?

Your primary healthcare provider can recommend at-home treatments, refer you to physical therapy and prescribe muscle relaxants, if necessary.

What happens if I don’t get treatment for my back spasms?

It’s possible that your back spasms may go away on their own, but it depends on what caused them. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best treatment plan for your situation.

Care at Cleveland Clinic

  • Find a Primary Care Provider
  • Schedule an Appointment


How can I prevent back spasms?

Back spasms aren’t 100% preventable. But you can consistent self-care can help, including:

  • Exercising.
  • Sitting with good posture.
  • Stress management.
  • Getting up and stretching after you’ve been sitting for 30 minutes.

Outlook / Prognosis

Can back spasms go away on their own?

Yes, but they may also come back.

When can I return to my normal activities?

You might heal after a couple days, or it could be weeks. Talk to your healthcare provider about a recovery plan.

Are there any complications of back spasms?

Although back spasms don’t cause and aren’t caused by the following symptoms, they sometimes happen at the same time.

Other pain

  • Backache.
  • Shoulder pain.
  • Arm pain.
  • Headache.
  • Hip pain.
  • Buttock pain.
  • Sciatica.


  • Neck.
  • Spine.

Other conditions

  • Leg weakness.
  • A curved spine.
  • Numbness.
  • Tingling.

Living With

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

You don’t have to live with back spasms and other types of back pain. Talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms to receive treatment.

When should I go to the emergency department?

Call 911 if you’re unable to move because of the pain.

Back spasms are sometimes a symptom of a serious condition. See your healthcare provider right away if you also experience:

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control.
  • Muscle weakness in arms or legs.
  • Odd sensations or numbness or weakness on one side of your body.
  • Loss of balance and coordination.
  • Loss of a sense of feeling in a limb/limbs.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider about back spasms?

  • What’s the best treatment for me?
  • Do my back spasms mean that I have a serious disorder?
  • Should I see a therapist for help with my stress?
  • Should I try a muscle relaxant?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Remember that it’s important to stay active even when you’re in pain (as long as that pain isn’t caused by over-using your muscles)! Get up and stretch every 30 minutes and exercise three times a week. To help with your pain, take over-the-counter medications and muscle relaxants and get a massage. Always discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider so that you can get the best care.

Keep in mind that back spasms are sometimes a symptom of a serious disorder. Notice other symptoms you might have alongside them and go to the emergency department if you have tingling/numbness on one side, weakness or if you lose your ability to control your bowel or bladder. If you’re debating whether or not to go to the emergency department, it’s better to go and be told you’re not in serious condition than to stay home.

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