A muscle spasm is when a muscle contracts involuntarily. It could be in response to injury, fatigue or stress. The lower back has a tremendous amount of pressure on it so it is more prone to spasms. Using ice and heat at appropriate times can speed relaxation of the spasm.
Spasm in Response to Injury
When the muscle spasm is in response to injury, nerve cells in the muscle signal the brain through the spinal cord that there is damage. Alpha motor neurons send a signal from the spinal cord telling the muscle to contract as a way to protect it. When it contracts too much, it just hurts.
While it may seem that it is the contraction that is the problem, ultimately it is more reasonable to address the source of the pain.
Spasm in Response to Stress
Stress makes us hold all of our muscles tightly, as if preparing for a blow. Some people "hold" stress in their backs. These tightened muscles become fatigued, and that's one cause of spasm. For this kind of spasm, ice may numb the initial pain, but heat will go a long way to release the muscle. It also has a psychologically comforting effect that will reduce the psychological stress causing the problem. Massage might also help in this instance.
Spasm in Response to Overuse
Backs are vulnerable to spasms when the muscle is overwhelmed. Muscle fibers, made of actin and myosin proteins, react to signals and send calcium which causes them to slide against each other creating a muscle contraction. When the muscle is overused there's too much calcium, and the muscle can not relax. Time, heat and massage will help. If the onset of a spasm is sudden and follows an activity such as lifting something, this can indicate muscle fibers have been torn. In this instance, first apply ice to reduce inflammation. After the first 20 minutes or so, apply heat to stimulate blood flow and help the muscle to relax.
Solutions to Spasm
Gentle stretching can loosen tightened muscles. Applying heat to the affected area before and after stretching also can smooth tension. Ice can ease inflammation, often indicated by a red or hot area.
Replenish nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium that stimulate the nerves controlling muscle activity, with a daily supplement.
Consult a doctor for severe muscle spasms, which can indicate a more serious condition. Some neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease can cause recurrent spasms.
Pain that does not subside in a few days may require prescription-only medication, such as diazepam (Valium), a muscle relaxant.
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