January 5, 2016
Injuries suck. They hinder your progress in the gym and can keep you laid up for days, weeks and sometimes even months. I’ve had my share of injuries including torn rotator cuffs and tendonitis but lately, I’ve had to deal with pesky back spasms.
About 5 months ago, I was starting to get some minor cramping in my mid back when I trained legs and back. Mind you, the cramps went away with some minor stretching but they still persisted, especially after a set or two of stiff leg dead lifts. I thought nothing of it and continued to train. About a month later, near the end of summer, my sister and her husband came to visit and I decided to whip up a big dinner of barbeque ribs, chicken, sausages and margaritas (what’s a hot summer day without margaritas?). In the midst of making dinner, I noticed a sharp pain on the left side of my mid back that just wouldn’t go away. I had to go lie down for about 15 minutes until the pain went away. A few days after that attack I was washing dishes and I experienced the same pain. Again I had to go lie down for 15 minutes until the pain subsided.
Of course, being a stubborn son of a gun, I kept training since the pain only came when I was standing up and doing dishes or cooking. Well as you can guess, it was only a matter of time before I experienced an attack at the gym. I remember doing a set of stiff leg dead lifts and BAM it hit me. I actually froze for a bit and wasn’t able to move. I made it to the dressing room and laid down on the bench until the pain went away. I knew something was wrong and stopped training immediately. I decided to take some time off training and rest my back. After about a month, I noticed my back wasn’t getting any better but getting worse. I started to notice spasms in my upper and outer back, all on my left side.
For those of you who don’t know what back spasms are, they are the involuntary contraction of the muscles in that area. The best way I can describe it as a cramping sensation in the muscle that doesn’t go away until it is fully relaxed. In my case, it only relaxed after sitting or lying down for about 10 or 15 minutes. For some it may take longer and for others less. It depends on the severity of the spasm and affected muscle groups.
I decided to book an appointment with my Doctor. After some basic tests and an x-ray, everything came back negative (which was a good sign) so there was no skeletal damage. My Doctor assessed it as mid para spinal muscle spasms. He also explained that other muscular systems are being affected because they are compensating for the original injury, which explains why my upper and outer back were experiencing spasms. The cause of my spasms were overuse of the affected muscles and not enough stretching and strengthening. My lumbar region was being overused.
He put me on a treatment of Flexeril which is a powerful muscle relaxant but they did nothing. At that point, I decided to go see my physiotherapist. My therapist agreed with my doctors assessment and put me on a regiment designed to help alleviate the pain in addition to strengthening the affected muscles.
My physio consisted of:
The back cracking felt the best. This was done in order to “release” the spasm. The therapist folded my arms and kind of gave me a bear hug. The pressure cracked my mid back which felt fantastic, like all the pressure in that area just disappeared.
Soon after the back cracking session, I was stuck full of needles which was called “Intra Muscular Stimulation”.
My physiotherapist stuck a series of small needles in and around the hot spots of the muscle spasms in order to totally relax the muscle. According to the therapist, the back cracking released the spasm and the IMS (intra muscular stimulation) totally relaxed the muscle. I have to admit, I wasn’t too excited about the procedure but after the first session, I felt great. It didn’t hurt and the pain relief lasted for a couple of days.
Here’s a quick video showing how it’s done.
He also had me do an exercise called “Active Truck Rotation”
I performed this exercise twice a day for 2 sets of 15 repetitions. The exercise is designed to help stretch, strenghten and improve range of motion in the lumbar region.
I had mixed results with my physio. I felt great for about two days after the sessions but the spasms always returned and always when I was doing dishes, preparing meals or doing laundry.
Meanwhile, I was getting out of shape and flabby. All the results I got from the hard work I did in the gym was starting to disappear. Three months of doing nothing will do that!
After another three weeks of physio, I noticed some small improvements but the spasms still continued. So I did some extensive research and found that my problem may be the result of a mineral imbalance. So, I decided to visit my local health food store to buy the following remedies to help alleviate my lower back muscle spasms (and mid back area):
Magnesium lotion: manufactured by AIM: Magnesium works with other nutrients to help muscles relax and contract. A deficiency in magnesium can contribute to muscle cramps, twitches and spasms. According to Dr. Oz 78% of muscle spasm sufferers have severe magnesium deficiencies. Only makes sense to top up magnesium levels.
Kwan Loong oil : Camphor, eucalyptus, menthol, and methyl salicylate. Supposed to help relax the muscle.
Nutri Cure by NAKA : Basically a combination of curcumin, boswelia and olive leaf to help with inflammation.
Taurine Powder : Taurine helps with muscle contractile properties and countering muscle fatigue. Based on the research I’ve done, taurine helps to improve force in type 2 muscle fibers. Which may explain why it helps to maintain normal muscle contractions (as opposed to spasms which are abnormal and involuntary muscle contractions)
To be honest, I was starting to get desperate and was willing to try anything that might help. So I rubbed magnesium lotion on my back three times a day and Kwan Loong oil before going to bed. I also took 6 Nutri Cure tablets a day and 12 grams of taurine powder mixed with lime Gatorade juice (in two 6 gram doses). I didn’t notice anything after the first day but on the second day, it was like someone massaged all the spasms away. Usually, the spasms hit me in the afternoon after doing stuff like washing dishes and cooking dinner but after two days of treatment, they weren’t as severe. Mind you, I could tell the spasms were still there but it wasn’t as debilitating as before. It was like the spasms were trying to bust through but my body was holding them at bay. After the third day, I started to feel 60% to 70% better.
That was about two weeks ago and today I feel about 80% better. I just got back from my therapist and he said the knots in my back have subsided and there wasn’t as many hot spots. I have much better range of motion in my back rotations. I’ve actually been going to the gym and doing some light work and I still haven’t felt a back spasm while working out.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not 100% cured because I still feel the spasms at times but the severity of the spasms have been greatly reduced. For example, I can now do normal tasks like washing dishes and preparing dinner without a full on spasm attack. However, I can still feel them after prolonged activity. I can only hope that as time goes on my body will reverse the triggers for my back spasms. As it stands now, I can return to the gym without the aching feeling in my back but I still have to take it easy and watch what I do. No more bent over movements such as dead lifts or rows until I have these spasms completely under control.
Will this course of treatment work for you? I don’t know. I can only say that it helped with my back spasms and has allowed me to return to the gym to get back on the road to getting into shape. Don’t take too much Taurine because it can cause diarrhea. Start with a smaller dosage like 3 to 5 grams and work your way up (don’t exceed 12 grams!).
Please, if you’re experiencing back pain stop training immediately and see your doctor. Believe me, I wish I would have seen my doctor and therapist sooner because it may have helped the spread of the spasms. If you’ve seen your doctor and know for sure it’s muscle spasms, try the course of natural treatment listed above and see if it works for you.
In addition, make sure you keep doing the exercises recommended by your doctor or therapist to strengthen the affected muscle groups.
1) If you notice anything out of the ordinary like pains or cramping, stop training immediately. Whatever you do, don’t train through the pain. Pack up your gym bag and head home. Ice the area for 15 to 20 minutes and try not to do anything for an hour or so.
2) If the pain persists or if you notice any type of cramping while you are doing minor chores, take two to three days off from training and keep icing the area two to three times per day at 15 to 20 intervals.
3) If, after 2 or 3 days the pain is still there, book an appointment with your doctor. Do not, I repeat do not do any type of training or fitness activity until after your doctor has diagnosed the problem. Once the problem has been properly diagnosed, follow the recommended course of treatment outlined by either your doctor or therapist.
4) Try other remedies (like the ones mentioned above) after you’ve consulted with your health professional. In other words, ask if it’s ok to use magnesium, lotions and taurine powder to help alleviate some of the symptoms. Taurine powder is the one ingredient that I think is responsible for the relief.
5) Stretch the area thoroughly once a day in conjunction with a physio regiment.
6) As soon as you notice any twitching or minor cramping after (or during) specific exercises such as dead lifts or bent over movements stop performing the exercise. Move onto another exercise and if the cramping or twitching continues, stop the workout and go home. Personally, I'd stop doing the exercise and perform another in it's place until the twitching or cramping subsides.
7) If you're suffering from lower back spasms, sleep with a pillor or two under your knees and sleep on your back. It might seem a little weird at first but this position will help realign your back and posture.
Always remember; Never ignore your body’s warning signs. Listen to your body and use common sense when you notice anything out of the ordinary. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, stop training and ice the affected body part. If it doesn’t get better, stay out of the gym and see your doctor. Take if from someone who knows, injuries never get better with more training, they always get worse.
Using the above mentioned remedies (especially the taurine powder) in conjunction with my physiotherapy regiment (exercise above), I’m certain that over time my muscle spasms will subside completely. The above information may help alleviate some of your back spasms symptoms and provide some relief or the severity of the spasms.
All the best,
P.S Don't use the above information as a substitute for a professional diagnosis - See your doctor.
As the owner of Building Muscle 101, I am committed to providing you the best practical weight training advice. I've been training for over 24 years (and still train to this day!) and the advice and guidance I provide comes directly from my experience and knowledge.
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