Muscles spasms are sudden and involuntary muscle contractions that can bring you to your knees. Often occurring as a result of a strained or improperly worked muscle, muscle spasms may be felt most commonly in the lower back.
Other causes of muscle spasms
Other common causes of muscle spasms include:
- Swayback or a pelvis that tilts forward more than normal
- Back conditions such as arthritis, spondylolysis, spondylolisthesis, disc rupture or a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or a tumor
- Tight hamstrings that cause compression in the low back
- Heavy lifting
- Weak muscles in the abdomen or along the spine
- Dehydration or electrolyte imbalance
Muscle spasms can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few days, but while they are happening it is difficult to do anything else but focus on treating the pain. Fortunately, there are many different ways to treat muscles spasms at home.
15 at-home treatments for muscle spasms
Often only advised for the most painful acute period of pain, rest is constructive to allow the muscles to relax.
Alternating ice and heat can help manage pain. Use a hot water bottle and an icepack wrapped in a dishcloth or t-shirt. Alternate three minutes of heat with three minutes of cold, three times each. Start with heat and end with cold.
Wet heat, such as that of a hot bath, can also help the muscle relax. Adding Epsom salts to the bath can help with electrolyte imbalance and works to combat muscle fatigue and soreness.
Drink plenty of water. Dinking a glass of tart cherry juice can also help combat painful inflammation.
As much as possible without stabbing pain, gently stretching the affected muscle can help relieve pain and prevent additional spasms.
6. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Over-the-counter NSAIDs can help with inflammation and pain in the acute phase.
7. Pelvic tilts
Gently rocking your pelvis front to back as you lie on the floor can help release contracted back muscles. Go slowly and breathe as you rock back and forth.
8. Muscle relaxants
If you cannot relax the muscles with the above techniques, a prescription muscle relaxant can help release the muscle and relieve pain. Only then can other treatments be effective, especially movement and strengthening exercises.
9. Prop with pillows
In the acute phase, pillows under the lower legs (if lying on the back) or between the knees (if lying on the side) helps the muscles release and relax.
Once the back has begun to relax out of spasm, you may be able to massage the area that is experiencing muscle spasms. Slap massage lotion or oil on the back to bring blood to the affected area and then use thumbs on either side of the spine to press deeply and slowly up and down the spine. You can also use fists on either side of the spine.
11. Apply arnica cream
Use arnica cream for massage for its anti-inflammatory properties. Look for undiluted arnica cream for the best results.
Sharp, sudden pain causes short, shallow breath, which is part of the fight-or-flight response. In this state, muscles naturally contract throughout the body. Breathing deeply and evenly helps restore the parasympathetic nervous system to a calmer state.
When muscle spasms hit, try to get to a peaceful state of mind through mindfulness meditation. It can be difficult to see anything clearly when you are unable to move off the floor, but if you can, try to experience what is happening without labelling it or creating a worst-case scenario in your head. The muscle spasm will pass, you will get treatment, and you will feel better. Repeat this to yourself while breathing deeply.
14. Hamstring stretch
When you can move your legs with minimal pain, lie on your back. Bend one knee into your chest and breathe for five breaths. On an inhale, slowly extend that foot up to the ceiling (flexed like you are trying to stand on the ceiling). Bend your knee as much as you need to, but keep the foot flexed to the ceiling. Try to relax and allow your hamstring to release and stretch. Stabbing pain anywhere on your body is not good, but you will likely feel a stretch in the back of your thigh (and maybe your low back).
15. Drink some tea
Chamomile tea relieves stress, and ginger tea calms inflammation. Having a soothing cup of either (or both) may help you relax and unwind.
The best way to treat muscle spasms is to not have them in the first place. Once the cause of the muscle spasm is diagnosed, take the steps necessary to remove that cause if possible. Some simple daily preventative measures include:
- Use proper lifting techniques: If you know you will be doing heavy lifting, take the time to lift each item carefully and properly. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend to help carry an especially heavy load.
- Engage your core: Use the muscles of your abdomen to support the back muscles when bending, lifting, and stretching.
- Hydrate: Drinking plenty of water every day keeps muscles flexible, fluid, and relaxed.
- Know your limits: If you are tired and worn out, you are much more likely to injure yourself while performing everyday tasks. If you have had muscle spasms before, take a break, re-group, and rest before continuing on with your day.
- Be a mindful “weekend warrior”: Many people injure themselves when they go from no activity to full-out physical action on the weekends. Whether it’s doing yardwork or a pick-up basketball game, stretch and warm up before you begin.
- Swap out your mattress: A firm (not hard) mattress will offer support and a good night’s rest that can help reduce the chances of muscle spasms.
Muscle spasms can be treated safely at home. Talk to your doctor about these and any other remedies that might work for you.