A muscle spasm can be defined as a “persistent, involuntary muscle contraction”. The main reason why this involuntary muscle contraction causes pain, is because it causes a decrease in circulation to the area. This pain is a message and a warning that the muscle tissue is not getting enough oxygen.
There were warning signs, believe me
It usually starts with stiffness, discomfort, and a feeling of “something is not right in my back”. This is your warning sign of a deeper, more complex problem and your body is trying to bring it to your attention.
Ignoring the signs and pushing through the discomfort leads to a painful lower back muscle spasm. By doing this, your body is limiting your movements to protect deeper vulnerable structures like lumbar joints, ligaments, discs and nerves. It protects you from further injury.
Your lifestyle contributes too
In today’s world we sit more than anything else. Work has become something where you sit, looking at the work on your desk or computer screen on a daily basis. You don’t get enough sleep, your stress levels increase, and physical exercise and your overall sense of well-being takes the backseat.
Your lower back, especially the lowest lumbar joints and discs (L4/L5), helps to carry your upper body’s weight. If you are overweight or don’t have the necessary core stability and lower back muscle strength, your spine takes a lot of strain on a daily basis. Ultimately, this causes instability of your spine.
Instability causes increased pressure on the intervertebral discs, joints and nerves, leading to injuries like a bulging disc, lower back joint pain or nerve compression. Injuries like these will always be accompanied by lower back muscle spasms. We call this muscle guarding. Muscles are protectively guarding the injured site by forming painful spasms in your lower back. in an attempt to protect your spine.
Take a step back and look at the bigger picture
Imagine your lower back is strong tower of Jenga blocks stacked one on top of the other, without any of the pieces missing.
Stage 1 – Healthy and strong
You have a strong lower back, no underlying injuries and an overall healthy lifestyle that allows you proper sleep, enough exercise, good health and manageable stress. This is a body that works in perfect harmony and one that can react to any load that you put on it. The tower of Jenga blocks is stable and solid.
Stage 2 – Falling apart
Now, one by one, the Jenga blocks are removed. If you don’t get enough sleep, remove a block. Working long hours in a terrible posture? Remove a block. Weak lower back muscles? Remove a block. With each block that is removed, the chances of the tower collapsing becomes more likely. When a sufficient number of blocks are removed, the tower becomes so unstable that it is still standing, but the slightest movement can topple the whole structure.
Stage 3 – The last block
The last block is removed and now the muscles in your lower back attempt to desperately save your vertebrae from shifting or your spine from collapsing, the same way the tower is about to collapse. This is how you end up with a painful muscle spasm in your lower back.
Stage 2 is where most of us are and we rarely ever return to Stage 1.
You thought you fixed it
We try to find ways to return to Stage 1, by trying to fool our system. We desperately try to build the tower of Jenga blocks back up and make it work by taking medication, going for massages or doing some stretches. This way, you feel a bit better and fool your body to believe that “it’s all back to normal”. But in fact, you have not built the tower of Jenga blocks back up to its original state of stability, you only do damage control. The tower is standing, but on the edge of collapsing again when a piece is removed in future.
To really prevent lower back muscle spasms from returning again and again, you need to start building the blocks from the bottom up and not just reposition the last one. Part of the reason that we don’t do this is because we feel better halfway through. The first sign of relief gives us reason to believe that we have ‘fixed’ the problem. But the fact is, it will just be a matter of time before it all comes back again.
Pushed to the limit
When a muscle in your back is forced to contract under a lot of pressure or remain contracted for a long time, a back muscle strain occurs. It becomes too much, the muscle can no longer hold the contraction and this combination of muscle fatigue and overload lead to a muscle injury (strain). It is pushed beyond its limits, beyond a point of simply spasming. Now, you end up with a torn muscle and inflammation that causes swelling and further irritation. The muscles surrounding the injured muscle will spasm protectively to prevent even further injury (muscle guarding). Now, you are left in even worse pain and you won’t be able to do the easiest things like bending down to brush your teeth.