Physical Therapy for Back Spasms: What You Should Know

According to the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is one of the leading causes of missed work and the second most common reason to visit a doctor (after upper respiratory infections). An estimated 80 percent of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Lower back pain is the most frequently reported, although pain can occur anywhere in the back.

Fortunately, the vast majority of back pain is biomechanical in nature, and a great deal of it can be attributed to muscle spasms. Physical therapy is an excellent way to relieve back spasms and other causes of back pain. Here’s what you should know.

What Is a Back Spasm?

A back spasm is an involuntary muscle contraction that occurs in the back. Back spasms run the gamut from infrequent twinges to constant, debilitating contractions that make it difficult to move without pain. They are more likely to occur in those suffering from arthritis, a ruptured or bulging disk, and/or weak abdominal muscles, as well as in those who participate in activities that put sudden, sharp force on the back. Heavy lifting is a common cause of back spasms.

What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a broad field that treats disorders of functional movement. The goal is to identify areas of pain or restricted mobility, alleviate the pain, and restore full functioning. Physical therapists use a variety of techniques as you move through the three phases of physical therapy: acute, subacute, and chronic.

How Does Physical Therapy Help with Back Spasms?

Back spasms tend to create a self-replicating cycle. The initial spasm causes pain, which signals your body to protect itself. This natural protective response involves tightening the muscles around the painful area, which in turn leads to further spasming and more pain. The more you hurt, the tighter your muscles become, making you hurt even more. Likewise, you will probably vastly curtail your movement in response to the pain. Yet the more you reduce your exercise, the less likely it is that you will be able to release the spasms.

In the acute phase of physical therapy, your therapist will focus on easing the pain, gently encouraging your muscles to relax. This is typically done with a combination of manual techniques, gentle stretches, ice or heat, and perhaps electrical stimulation. The goal is to stop the ongoing cycle of cramping and pain.

Once the pain is under control, you will move into the subacute phase. At this point, your physical therapist will work on rebuilding your strength and flexibility. Manual therapy techniques and the application of heat or ice will likely continue, but you will move into a combination of stretching and strengthening activities that are designed to keep the back muscles loosened up, while retraining them to bear weight and move normally.

After several weeks, you will move into the chronic phase. At this point, your physical therapist will continue to coordinate your rehabilitation, teaching you new ways of performing your daily activities that reduce your risk of injury and avoid a flareup of back spasms. But you will be largely on your own, building fitness and moving into a sustainable, healthy way of life.

If you are seeking a customized, innovative approach to physical therapy in Matawan, NJ, please call Matawan Physical Therapy at (732) 662-4400 to schedule your initial assessment.