Many clients come in complaining of lower back spasm, pain or tightness. Understandably, most want a quick fix. It may be easy to just reach into the medicine cabinet to try and find your quick fix, when in reality this should be one of your last approaches to treatment. Sure, those Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and pain killers, such as ibuprofen, will alleviate the pain in the short term but chances are before too long that painful spasm will rear its ugly head once again. Over-the-counter medication has its time and place, however, read on to learn about a number of alternative methods that may provide longer term lower back spasm relief.
First, it is important to understand what a lower back spasm actually is – a lower back muscle spasm is a cramping or tightening of the muscles located in the lower back, responsible for movement and upright posture. This painful cramping or tightening, attributed to a muscle spasm, is involuntary – meaning you have no control over it. Muscle spasms may result from muscle injury or overuse and occur from sudden or unexpected movements, sustained and repetitive postures, underlying anatomical problems or if a person has not warmed up adequately prior to exercise. Muscle spasms generally present as the lower back tries to protect itself from damage to the muscles and tissues in these movements or situations. Health professionals such as soft tissue occupational therapists, will not only work to treat the acute pain and spasm but also the underlying cause of your symptoms, which may not be so obvious. They may also recommend the following approaches before advising an over-the-counter medication or referring you onto your GP.
3) Natural Anti-Inflammatories
Inflammation, swelling and pain commonly occurs in and around torn, strained and spasmed muscles, ligaments and tendons. Inflammation, swelling and pain can occur when the body’s natural defences become activated by some sort of stimuli such as an infection, a soft tissue injury or joint or muscle imbalance. This defence mechanism acts to support the healing of the body, however if it becomes excessive or prolonged, it can cause pain and discomfort and impair or slow the recovery process. Many people dislike taking anti-inflammatory medication to assist in relief from symptoms of muscle spasm. Luckily, in recent times, plenty of research has gone into finding naturally occurring anti-inflammatories.
Turmeric is a yellow powder sourced from the root of the turmeric plant. It is highly regarded for its anti-inflammatory properties, which actually stem from an active chemical compound called curcumin. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties, which works by blocking NF-kB; a molecule which travels into the nuclei of your cells and turns off the genes related to inflammation, at a molecular level. Curcumin is generally poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. Studies show 500-1,000 milligrams of curcuminoids are required to experience it’s anti-inflammatory benefits. It is recommended to pair your curcumin with black pepper, which contains another natural substance called piperine which has been shown to enhance the absorption of curcumin by up to 2,000%. Adding turmeric powder into your cooking is a great way to help with maintenance of gut health, however, if you are looking to reduce your inflammation the best way to reap the benefits of this powerful, natural anti-inflammatory is to take capsules of curcumin which also contain black pepper. Without the addition of black pepper, it is likely most of the curcumin will past straight through your digestive system.
Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, is a tropical plant which has been shown to produce some anti-inflammatory relief in conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatism and general inflammation. Many of the constituents found in ginger limit the production of cytokines and reduce the activity of cyclooxygenase, which promote inflammation. It is not recommended that you exceed 3-4 grams of dried ginger per day, and no more than 1 gram per day if you are pregnant. Ginger tablets, capsules and teas are a great way to increase your ginger consumption, however, there is some evidence to support the increased efficacy of consuming ginger fresh or dried. Most importantly ginger contains a number of important nutrients, including magnesium, which is important in aiding muscle functioning and reducing muscle spasm.
Bexters Soda Crystals are made from naturally occurring calcium carbonate and sodium chloride, processed to form special crystals. The crystals are hygroscopic, meaning they have the ability to draw fluid from joints and muscles and aid in the relief of swelling, when caused by inflammation. The best way to experience the benefits of Bexters Soda Crystals is to place the soda crystals in a wrap of soft cotton and apply to the inflamed area, approximately 1cm thick. Remove after 30 minutes, or preferably, leave overnight. Can be done every second day for persistent swelling.
Epsom salts or magnesium sulfate is effective way to increase magnesium levels in the body for those lacking adequate magnesium. In addition to reducing swelling, soaking in these salts can reduce muscle spasm and cramping, calm the nervous system and draw toxins from the body. To reap the benefits of these salts place 1 cup of Epsom Salts into a hot bath and soak for up to 30 minutes. The efficacy for the absorption of the salts through the skin is yet to be scientifically proven, however, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence support the use of Epsom salts for the reduction of muscle spasm and pain relief.
2) Electrolytes And Hydration
Sodium, potassium and chloride, along with calcium and magnesium are the essential electrolytes required by the body for optimal muscle functioning . These electrolytes function to assist with neuromuscular activity, which is why adequate consumption is critical in preventing muscle spasm. A balanced diet rich in these electrolytes can help to maintain healthy muscle functioning and reduce muscle spasming, if you are unable to attain adequate levels from a balanced diet, supplements may be beneficial.
Foods high in:
- Calcium: Milk, leafy green vegetables, fish (such as sardines and salmon), nuts and seeds
- Magnesium: Dark chocolate, nuts (especially almonds, cashews, brazil nuts), bananas and leafy greens
- Potassium: Pumpkin, spinach, potatoes and lentils
- Sodium: Canned beans, celery, chicken broth and beets
Note: Low levels of sodium are rare in western countries due to a high salt diet.
Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated is essential in reducing muscle cramping and spasm. If you think about it, our muscles can be made up of 73 percent water. Which is over half! Numerous physiological and biomechanical functions within our bodies rely on our muscles being adequately hydrated, with one being the ability for your muscles to develop smooth, organized contractions. If your muscles are dehydrated they are unable to effectively and efficiently contract, increasing the chance of developing muscle spasms. In addition, water aids in digestion and is important in eliminating waste products created from working muscles. Adults should be aiming for 2-3 litres, depending on lifestyle factors such as exercise and sweating. Time to drink up!
1) Soft Tissue Occupational Therapy
A visit to a Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist can assist in the treatment of muscle spasm. A soft tissue occupational therapist will conduct an assessment to determine the cause of the spasm and then provide hands-on neuromuscular techniques, such as trigger point therapy, myofascial release to improve functioning of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia. These neuromuscular techniques work to break down fibrous adhesions, releasing tight muscles and correcting improper muscle functioning and postures. A hands-on approach to treatment can help to resolve a tissue, joint or muscle imbalance and assist in increasing circulation of fresh, healthy blood towards an area increasing drainage of unhealthy, toxic fluid away from the area. This increased nutrition and removal of toxins from the damaged tissue enhances the body’s natural healing response and speeds up recovery.
Soft tissue occupational therapists may also work to develop and recommend stretching and strengthening regimes to assist in alleviating symptoms and prevent recurring and lower back spasm. Gentle exercise and stretching is likely to assist in relieving pain resulting from muscle spasm and can help speed up your recovery. Regular stretching can help to lengthen the muscle and prevent contractures, assisting with muscle maintenance. They may also recommend gentle exercise to assist with decreasing the pain associated with muscle spasm. Gentle exercise encourages circulation and blood flow to tissues, reducing muscle stiffness and spasm.
A soft tissue occupational therapist may also discuss ‘at home’ pain relief techniques, including heat therapy. When you are experiencing muscle spasm, applying heat to the area can help to soothe the muscles and aid in pain relief. The heat increases the circulation of the blood flow throughout the area, enhancing the delivery of nutrients to the muscles, aiding in repair, and reducing the symptoms of muscle spasm. Applying a heat pack, soaking in a hot bath or using topical balms, such as Tiger balm or Eagle balm can help to relieve muscle spasm. Tiger balm and Eagle balm work to heat the muscles due to to high concentrations of menthol, an active ingredient that soothes muscles.
Finally, an occupational therapist will work to explore lifestyle factors, such as sleep positioning or workplace ergonomics, to uncover any contributing factors leading to your muscle spasm, they will assist in creating a personalized treatment plan that will help to reduce your symptoms and risk of reoccurrence.
If none of these alternative approaches to treatment are providing lower back spasm relief, your soft tissue occupational therapist may suggest an over-the-counter medication or refer you back to your GP to devise a pain management plan. If your pain is severe and debilitating your GP may recommend a muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory or anti-spasmodic medication to assist in your pain relief and recovery. Caution is always advised, and an appointment with your GP recommended, as pain medication can result in a desensitization or numbing effect which can mislead you to believe that your symptoms have been treated when in reality you just can’t feel them. This desensitization or numbing effect may encourage premature return to the activities or exercises that resulted in your lower back spasm, further exacerbating your injury. If you do take medication, under the supervision of a trained health professional, a minimal dosage may be more effective as it allows you to remain aware of any activities causing discomfort to the area as you recover.
At Infused Health our highly trained Soft Tissue Occupational Therapists will use a hands on approach to help treat your injuries, conditions or any concerns you may have. You can make an appointment today by calling 0401 876 623.