Back pain, and lower back pain especially, is a common problem, particularly in adults over the age of 40. The strain of staying upright – standing, sitting for long periods, and doing any type of physical activity for too long or in wrong form – can eventually lead to a stiff and painful back.
But getting a diagnosis and prompt treatment can be a challenge. This is because back pain can run the gamut from a chronic annoyance to a warning sign of serious problems ahead – and back pain also includes a range of different symptoms.
Sciatica is a condition characterized by intense shooting pain caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve. Muscle spasms have many different causes and are characterized by both severe pain and stiffness – and in fact, they can make sciatica more likely to occur.
Sciatica is a medical term for pain caused when the sciatic nerve (that runs from the back, down your legs) is compressed or damaged. The pain can be felt anywhere in the lower body, such as the back, buttock, thigh, or leg – depending on location of the impingement on the sciatic nerve.
Sciatic pain is usually caused by a problem with one of the soft discs that separate and cushion the vertebrae (bones) in your spine. When one or more of these discs slip, bulge out, or rupture, they can impinge or irritate the sciatic nerve. In older adults, spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the space through which the sciatic nerve travels, can also lead to sciatic pain.
Rarely, sciatic pain may be caused by an infection or a tumor pressing on the region. For some people, sciatica may progress, causing increasing weakness and incontinence of the bladder and bowel. If this occurs, seek medical help right away.
There are two kinds of muscle spasms: the acute kind that is forceful and involuntary, and the chronic kind that is sustained or otherwise known as a muscle cramp. The tightness occurs because the muscles of the back are overworked.
Often, back muscles are overworked because they’ve had to take on the entire burden of supporting your torso and lower body, the muscles of which have weakened. For example, if you spend a lot of time sitting or lying down, the lower half of your body may get very weak, forcing your upper half to bear all the burden.
Additionally, the girdle of muscles making up your abdominal core may have weakened from lack of strengthening exercise, pregnancy, weight gain, or surgery. These core muscles surround and support the spine and back. When they fail, the large muscles in your back must take up the slack. But they can only do so much before they spasm.
Symptoms and Treatments
Muscle spasms can range from the very minor twitch of a muscle band to painful contractions that can literally have you immobile on your bed or floor. The key with muscle spasms is to prevent them from occurring over and over.
Heating pads, ibuprofen, rolling massage devices, and gentle breathing and stretching can often work just as well as powerful muscle relaxants or more invasive types of treatments. When symptoms calm down, gentle and appropriate physical therapy in the form of strength-building exercise is an excellent way to rebuild your strength and stabilize your back. This takes effort and perseverance, but it’s worth it.
Sometimes muscle spasms can occur as a result of a metabolic imbalance in the body, such as a magnesium deficiency. If an exam does not uncover a physical cause for your spasms, you might consider getting blood work done to see if this is the cause.
Orthopedic Experts in Missouri
If you are experiencing back pain that doesn’t resolve with rest or exercise, turn to the orthopedic specialists at Advanced Bone & Joint for relief.