How to Get Relief From Back Spasms

Muscle spasms in the middle back can often be relieved by stretching. If that doesn't help, try hydrotherapy—ice, moist heat, or a warm bath or shower. Over-the-counter pain relievers like Aleve (naproxen), Advil (ibuprofen), or Tylenol (acetaminophen) can also ease the discomfort of back spasms.

If muscle spasms do not respond to at-home treatments or occur frequently, talk to your healthcare provider. Middle-back muscle spasms can be due to an underlying problem like a herniated disk in the thoracic spine.

This article discusses muscle spasms in the middle back. It explains the different causes of mid-back muscle spasms and how to treat them.

Woman with side back pain sitting on bed at home - stock photo

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What Causes Mid-Back Spasms?

While many times spasms stem from the muscles themselves, they can also be a result of a more structural problem such as disc herniation. When this is the case, the muscles are trying to stabilize the affected area and to prevent you from moving in such a way as to cause further damage.

In his book, Heal Your Aching Back, Dr. Jeffrey Katz, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Brigham Spine Center, says this automatic tightening is a reflex that you can't consciously control.

Sometimes, he says, you don't even realize it's occurring until later—when you feel the related pain. Katz adds that another source of muscle spasm in the neck can be emotional stress.

Maybe you can't control the spasming while it's happening, but afterward, the contraction can be so strong, it may significantly slow down the progress you might otherwise make in the treatment room. Or it may simply interrupt your life with too much pain.

Other Reasons for Mid-Back Spasm

Other causes of muscle spasms in the middle back include:

  • Anxiety 
  • Arthritis
  • Being sedentary
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Injury
  • Over-exercising 
  • Poor posture
  • Sitting at a desk too long
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spondylosis
  • Stress

In some cases, mid-back muscle spasms may be due to problems with an internal organ. Gallstones, kidney stones, and kidney infections can also cause back pain and muscle spasms.

How to Ease Mid-Back Muscle Spasms

Ultimately, the best thing you can do for a back muscle spasm is stretch, says Dr. Loren Fishmen, a physical medicine, and rehabilitation specialist in New York. (Fishman is also a yoga instructor.)

Though generally not serious, mid-back muscle spasms often baffle doctors and family members, he says. This is because even though they likely produce little movement or support, muscles in spasm are hard at work; as such, they require oxygen and nutrient delivery as well as waste disposal.

But contraction clamps down on blood vessels through which these substances pass, limiting the exchanges that can occur. Instead, acid builds up in your muscle which can hurt—and makes for more spasm. It's a vicious cycle until you can relax the muscle, he says.

In addition to stretching, the following can be used to treat mid-back muscles spasms at home:

  • Apply ice or heat
  • Soak in a warm bath
  • Take a hot shower
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil (ibuprofen), or Aleve (naproxen) 

Conventional Medical Treatment

What can—or will—a conventional medical doctor do for your back muscle spasm?

In 2006, a roundtable reported in the European Spine Journal consisting of four M.D.s who regularly treated pain explored the issue in an effort promote the best possible choices for screening, diagnosing, and treating acute low back pain caused by a spasm in the paraspinal muscles. (The paraspinal muscles are the long muscles located at the back of your trunk.)

The docs talked about such things as when to order films and other diagnostic tests—and which tests to order—along with medication choice, non-drug treatments, the use of complementary therapies, and the role your emotional and social well-being (called biopsychosocial factors) plays in the healing process.

Recommendations that emerged from the conversation included having a thorough physical exam and medical history intake, getting moving as soon after the pain starts as you can, using diagnostic imaging tests sparingly, and more.

The doctors advocated patient education as well as good doctor-patient communications. They also concluded that taking a combination of muscle relaxers and NSAIDs may help reduce the spasm (and pain, of course).

Fishman adds that conventional medicine can offer treatments designed to interrupt the blood vessel constriction—muscle spasm cycle. Examples include ultrasound, an injection of an anesthetic, or a visit to a physical therapist that includes electrical stimulation to fatigue the muscle, thereby enabling it to relax.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kurz JL. Muscle Spasms. North American Spine Society. 2016.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Back spasms.

  3. Braun MB, Simonson SJ. Introduction to Massage Therapy (Third Edition). Wolters Kluwer. 2014.

Additional Reading

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.