Back spasms can occur during and after running or other strenuous activities. Spasms are when the muscles in your lower back tighten up painfully. Spasms usually are the result of previous trauma, inflammation or muscular weakness in the region, according to the Sports Injury Clinic. Many instances of back spasms can be prevented with proper running techniques, stretching, strengthening and other anticipatory measures. If you frequently get back spasms, talk to your doctor to rule out a more serious condition.
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Back spasms often occur when muscles are imbalanced, causing your spine to pull out of natural alignment. If one muscle is strong and the opposing muscle is weak, it causes an imbalance that can affect posture. For example, if your quad muscle is much stronger than your glute muscles, your pelvis tilts forward rather than sitting straight in spinal alignment, a condition called anterior pelvic tilt. This places significant pressure on the lower back, leading to spasms.
Your core muscles consist of the abdominals, obliques, quadriceps, glutes, back muscles and hamstrings, or basically every muscle involved in spinal stabilization. If your core muscles are weak, your spine is not effectively supported. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends supplementing your running program with core-strengthening exercises such as planks, glute bridges, back squats and lying back extensions.
Spasms in the back can be the result of foot imbalances such as high or low arches, which cause the foot to pronate or supinate. When this happens, your ankles, knees and lower back are affected. See a podiatrist or go to a local running store and have your walking gait analyzed to rule out foot problems. You may need an additional arch support or insole for your running shoes. Your shoes may be worn and no longer providing adequate support. The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine suggests replacing your running shoes every 350 to 550 miles.
The best method of preventing back spasms is to address the issue before it starts. Vary the intensity of your runs. Mix short runs with long runs, and cross-train to prevent overuse injuries. If you are running on cement or hard surfaces, switch to grass, turf or a track for better shock absorption. Stretch your hamstrings, quads, calves and back daily to maintain proper range of motion and prevent muscle imbalances. Supplement your running routine with upper- and lower-body strength training to keep your supportive muscles strong.
Since inflammation of the spine causes spasms, Dr. Robert Watkins of the Association of Professional Team Physicians recommends taking an anti-inflammatory drug, rather than a muscle relaxer. Rest your back, but do not confine yourself to a bed, which can worsen the condition. Try to stay active. Ice your back. If you continue to spasm, talk to your doctor about appropriate treatment.
- “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning”; National Strength and Conditioning Association; Thomas R. Baechel and Roger W. Earle; 2008
- Sports Injury Bulletin: Lower Back Spasms
- ESPN Training Room: Back Spasms
- American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine; Selecting a Running Shoe; Stephen M. Pribut