What causes a back spasm?

It is common for muscle spasms to occur when you are exerting a lot of energy or straining, such as while performing heavy lifting, working out, or engaging in a strenuous sports activity. You are especially prone to muscle spasms if you are doing any of these activities when you have not hydrated yourself sufficiently first, if your stores of potassium or calcium are low, or if you have other conditions that make your muscles vulnerable.

Fitness deficiency causes of a back spasm

Certain aspects of your physical conditioning can make you more prone to muscle spasms and include:

  • Dehydration
  • Low blood mineral levels, such as potassium and calcium
  • Tightness in the tendons that run down the back of the legs (the hamstrings)
  • Weak or tight back muscles
  • Weak stomach muscles

Pathologic causes of a back spasm

Back spasms can be a response to pain from another existing condition. Some spasms may be due to specific disorders or to pressure on either the spinal cord or other nerves extending from the spinal cord. Disorders that can cause back spasms include:

  • Arthritis in your spine
  • Curvature of the spine, such as lordosis or scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine)
  • Herniated disc
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
  • Spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis (defects in the vertebral column or backbone)

Serious causes of a back spasm

In some cases, back spasm may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis complications
  • Epidural abscess (localized infection along the spinal canal)
  • Gallstones
  • Kidney stones
  • Pyelonephritis (kidney infection)
  • Tumor

Questions for diagnosing the cause of a back spasm

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your back spasm including:

  • How long have you had these spasms?
  • Where exactly do you feel them?
  • Do you experience any tingling, numbness, or loss of sensation in any part of your body?
  • Have you experienced episodes of weakness in any of your muscles?
  • How is your balance? Any trouble with coordination?
  • Have you had any episodes of loss of bowel or bladder control?
  • Have you had a stiff neck or stiffness in your spine?
  • Have you had any hip or buttock pain, or a feeling of pain shooting down the back of your leg?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of a back spasm?

Because a back spasm can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Eventual reduced flexibility or mobility
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Permanent nerve damage or disability
  • Permanent or chronic pain
  • Progressive pain, weakness, and loss of muscle function
  • Saddle anesthesia (permanent loss of sensation in the inner thighs, back of legs, and rectal area)


  1. Back spasm. Cedars-Sinai. http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Back-Spasm.aspx.
  2. NINDS back pain information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/backpain/backpain.htm.


What is a back spasm?

A back spasm is a sudden and involuntary contraction, or uncontrollable tightening, of a muscle in response to strain, overuse, weakness, or muscle pain related to injury or a disorder. Back spasms often occur near the spinal cord or near the nerve roots that lead in and out of the spinal cord. This can put pressure on one of these sensitive nerves, causing quite severe pain.

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What other symptoms might occur with a back spasm?

Back spasm may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the back may also involve other body systems.

Musculoskeletal symptoms that may occur along with a back spasm

Back spasm may accompany other symptoms affecting the musculoskeletal system including:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Jul 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles

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