Get Rid of Back Spasms

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Summary: Although we have spent our whole lives breathing, sometimes we may be using the wrong muscles to breathe. If you are struggling with back spasms, proper breathing technique can help relax your muscles. Expanding your ribs and breathing with your diaphragm can help get rid of the spasms and improve your core strength so they stay away for good.

 

The Malady: 

Back Spasms

The Facts:

A back spasm is a painful irritation of the muscles surrounding the spine that result in those muscles tightening up and becoming inflamed. Back spasms can usually be traced to poor core control, which often starts with a lack of diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing with your diaphragm, a large muscle between your chest and stomach, involves expanding the stomach rather than the chest while inhaling. Also called belly breathing, this technique helps to engage muscles that provide support for your back.

The Symptoms:

Patients with back spasms have complaints like “my back went out” or “grabbed up on me”. Patients report feeling stuck in one position, and feel a high level of pain. The pain makes it difficult for the patient to sit or stand upright. The muscle that is spasmed feels rock hard, and is unable to relax.

What is Happening:

A muscle spasm is an involuntary contraction of a muscle. Although we all breathe, “proper” breathing involves using your diaphragm, which is a deep core muscle that contracts and moves down on the inhale, and relaxes on the exhale. This causes changes of pressure in your chest cavity and allows it to move up and down. The diaphragm attaches to the ribs and vertebrae, and is considered an “inner core muscle”, because it is able to support your back and keep it stable.

Why Is This Happening:

Muscle spasms can occur due to poor posture, overuse, or an injury that causes they muscles to “lock up”. You may feel the muscles tighten and be unable to relax them. This can be a result of improper breathing. The best way to tell if you are breathing properly is by looking at the ribs. Laying on your back, slowly inhale, making sure your ribs are expanding outwards. You may even put your hands on both sides of your ribs and gently push inward against them to feel if your ribs are pushing out towards you. After taking a long, slow inhale through your nose, let the air out through your mouth (do not forcefully exhale; to contract the diaphragm, picture yourself “fogging up a mirror” or “yawning”). As you do so, pull your rib cage down and belly button down towards the floor, fully letting the air out.

 

Lifestyle Adjustments:

Make sure that you are aware of your breathing at all times. This is especially important in times of stress, when muscles are most likely to go into spasm. If you are feeling your neck and low back muscles becoming tense, close your eyes and breathe deeply for a minute. Making sure you exercise regularly has also been shown to decrease muscle spasms. 45 minutes of exercise 3 or 4 days a week will go a long way towards avoiding back spasms.

Fix It and Prevent It

Spasms can be avoided by developing proper core strength through deep breathing. Deep breathing using your diaphragm engages the core for an effect called ‘reciprocal inhibition”, meaning it sends a signal to the brain to turn off the muscles on the other side, your back, and release the spasmed muscle. Deep breathing also has a calming effect on the nervous system, and decreased production of “stress” hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can impact a muscle in spasm. A similar effect can be achieved if you are heading with stress headaches, which often involve spasmed muscles as well.

Contact Info

Dmitry R. Choklin
PT, DPT, CSCS, CKTP

Cell: (917) 328-8098
Fax: (866) 282-1162
Email: dchoklin@yahoo.com

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