Acute back spasm – what to do when it gets you?

Your back feels achy from time to time. You feel your muscles being stiff and tense. After sitting for a while, it is hard to get back up again. This scenario might be going on for a couple months or even years. You might do nothing about it as you think it’s just how your body is, it’s always been like this. And then there comes one day you bend over to pick up something from the floor. Boom – sudden, sharp pain in shoots down the pine that makes you stuck in bend forward position. Have you ever found yourself in this situation?

Low back pain has become very prevalent in our times especially in last year of Covid pandemic.  We sit longer, maybe exercise less, are more stressed. All those factors/ingredients give us a perfect recipe for a disaster to happen.

According to WHO statistics 60 to 80% of modern society is suffering from lower back pain. Every second person will or have experienced acute back spasm. Those situations might usually take us by surprise- during work, at home, during every day activities.

Acute back – what is that?

Generally, all musculoskeletal conditions can be acute or chronic. Acute back spasm is sudden and very intense. It is kind of protective mechanism; its function is to warn us that painful tissues have been injured. This acute state might last up to two weeks. Worth noticing her is the fact that untreated acute pain might become a chronic condition.

Chronic pain is one that lasts more than 3 months. This kind of pain might be felt nonstop or in reoccurring episodes. Chronic pain doesn’t have to be a sign of any serious pathology but, if it is present for long periods of time, it might become a condition on its own. Often people suffering from chronic back pain are getting used to it, learn how to live with it. Unfortunately, the situation might gradually become worse and lead to serious dysfunctions and degenerations.

Whatever kind of pain you are experiencing, you shouldn’t ignore it. Pain is an information that something not good is going on and you should know what to do when it hits you. Let’s look into things you can do to help to tackle it.


Put your body in best position

In case of acute back spasm, it is important to unload, decompress and thus give your spine chance to regenerate. Initially we want do find ourselves in so called “low positions”, meaning laying on the floor and as we get better, gradually progress into “higher positions” like sitting and standing.

One position that brings some relief is laying on the back with hip and knees bend. We can use a chair or swiss ball, or just roll a thick blanket to rest our legs on. What happens in this position is that hips flexion forces lumbar spine flexion and minimize compression that is being exerted at nerve roots that stem from the spine.

Laying on the side with pillow between the legs. This position also brings some relief and pillow placed between the knees prevents from rotating the pelvis which might increase the pain. Remember to switch sides every from time to time.

If the pain is starting to get less intense, or you are not able to stay in bed, you might try perform simple exercise which will help to bring nutrients to intervertebral disc and help to speed up its regeneration. Just simply sit on the chair, clinch your fists and place them next to your hips. By transferring your bodyweight into the arm, slowly lift your bottom from the chair. This will decompress the spine and generate gentle traction. You can do this exercise for couple minutes, repeat as often as possible. Be cautious not to move to fast, keep both feet on the ground all the time.

Keep it cool

Applying ice also helps to bring inflammation down. You can use ice packs or just simply a bag of frozen peas. Just remember not to put the ice directly on the skin and apply rule of 5 minutes on, 5 minutes off.


Gentle massage around painful area can help too. We not talking about professional massage here just yet but it’s worthwhile to ask your partner to very gently massage the stiff muscles.

Keep moving

Not that long ago it was thought that in case of acute back pain we should stay in bed till we get better. However, the latest research shows that avoiding movement slows down the recovery and makes it more difficult. Couple days of laying down leads to muscle weakness and developing more problems such as decreased levels of fitness which will make getting back to health longer. That is why it is so important, even during initial acute stages, don’t give up completely on moving. All it takes is 5–10-minute walk around the flat or garden.

Drink lots of water

Intervertebral discs are jelly like substance, made of 70% water. As we get older and as a result of strains, discs are becoming degenerated and dehydrated. This results in weakness and decrease of its amortization function which consequently leads to increase risk of acute back pain episode occurrence. Therefore, we must remember to drink lots of water. It will help to better hydrate the disc and consequently will speed up recovery.

Seek for professional advice

Despite of the fact that all mentioned above ways will help you to decrease the pain, they should be used after seeing a professional. Don’t hesitate to visit our clinic where we see patients with back pain on regular basis. We conduct precise examination and treatment accordingly in order to find root cause and help patients get back to their everyday activities.

When to see a GP?

Very intense pain in its self is a big problem and it is great if we are able to quiet it down with all above advices. Unfortunately, there are some circumstances and concerning symptoms in which you have to contact your GP. Below are the red flags we have to look out for:

  • Numbness in the crotch area, difficulties with urination and/or emptying the bowl


When acute back pain starts to ease off, we have to take good care of our spine to prevent reoccurrence. Sometimes if the pain is away for a while, we have tendencies to forget looking after our back. Very important is to keep right posture during sitting especially if you have desk job.

Another important factor is maintaining optimal body weight by keeping healthy diet and regular exercise.