Understanding Herniated Disc Muscle Spasm – What Is the Link Between These Two?

Battling unexpected muscle spasms in your back? These could be symptoms of a muscle spasm associated with a herniated disc.

The most common form of a herniated disc is a lumbar herniated disc. This can sometimes put pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord, which might trigger muscle contractions as a defense mechanism.

In this article, we will delve into what muscle spasms are, how a herniated disc can trigger them, what symptoms to look out for and how to treat a herniated disc. You'll walk away more equipped with how to cope when these spasms occur.

What are muscle spasms?

Muscle spasms are involuntary and sudden muscle contractions. They can start without any warning. These sudden pains, often called “back attacks,” seem to come out of nowhere. They usually result from small strains that build up in the spine over time. Often, you don't notice these strains until you bend or lift something, triggering a protective response from the muscles.

When you feel tightness and soreness in your lower back, it’s often your body trying to protect an injured nerve root near your spine. These spasms don't just cause pain. They also limit your movement, which can disrupt your daily activities. Recognizing this pattern is important. It helps in finding the right treatments to address both the spasms and the pain effectively.

How are herniated discs & muscle spasms connected?

A herniated disc often produces no symptoms. Many hernias heal on their own and do not need surgery. However, sometimes the disc can press on the spinal nerves or irritate the nerves. This pressure or irritation can affect the nerves that control muscles. When this happens, it might cause painful muscle contractions.

These contractions are a defense mechanism of the body.

Inflammation & irritation

The pain associated with a herniated disc can be greatly intensified due to inflammation. This inflammation:

  • increases irritation of the nerves
  • causes nerve swelling
  • triggers muscle spasms
  • induces nearby muscles to spasm as they react to chemical irritants released from the leaking interior of the disc.

What are the symptoms of a herniated disc muscle spasm?

Symptoms associated with a herniated disc-related muscle spasm are often diverse and can be severely incapacitating. Typically, you might experience sharp, burning pain in your leg. This pain can be intense and may feel like it's shooting down your leg. You might also notice numbness and tingling sensations.

These symptoms often come with concentrated pain in your lower back and can appear suddenly or be triggered by movements like lifting or twisting1.

Sharp, burning pain in the leg

A herniation of a lumbar disc can impact the sciatic nerve. This can cause spasms and radiating pain. The pain usually begins in the lower back and moves through the buttocks and down into the legs. Symptoms of this condition include:

  • intense burning sensations
  • shooting pains
  • tingling or numbness
  • muscle weakness in the leg.

Numbness & tingling

Muscle spasms frequently result in numbness and tingling sensations extending down to the leg and foot. These symptoms, known as radiculopathy occur in areas served by the nerves affected by the herniated disc.

Localized low back pain

A common sign of a lumbar disc herniation is localized pain in the lower back. This pain can lead to muscle spasms. The intensity of this pain can range from mild and dull to acute and severe.

Managing this type of pain often requires changes in your daily routine. It also involves continuous strategies for managing pain. Understanding what triggers your lower back pain is crucial. This knowledge helps in developing effective treatment approaches.

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How can you diagnose a herniated disc?

In many cases, you do not need specific scans or tests to treat your back pain effectively. However, your doctor might suggest medical imaging techniques, such as MRI or CT scans. These can help view your spine and identify any injuries, like a compressed nerve or an encroached spinal cord.

How to treat herniated disc muscle spams

Herniated discs often improve by themselves without requiring surgery or other treatments2. To aid your recovery and manage your symptoms, consider the following methods.

Exercise & physical therapy

Understanding your body and your pain is the first step in your recovery journey. This knowledge will help you use physical activity and exercise to reduce your symptoms and strengthen your body over time.

Any exercise that improves your cardiovascular health, strengthens your muscles, and increases your flexibility can help relieve your discomfort. The best part is that any movement is beneficial, so choose an activity that you enjoy2.

Stress management

Studies indicate that stress negatively impacts the regeneration of intervertebral disc cells. Intervertebral disc cells are the tiny building blocks that make up the soft, jelly-like centers and tougher outer rings of the discs in your spine, which help keep your back flexible and absorb pressure from activities such as walking, lifting, and bending.

Stress also increases our perception of pain. Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques regularly can help reduce herniated disc pain and muscle spasms.

Weight control

It’s not all about the number on the scales, but it’s wise to discuss any concerns about your weight and nutrition with your doctor or a nutritionist. Reducing the pressure on your spine could help improve your condition.

Maintaining a balanced diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods is beneficial for spinal health. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and walnuts, along with a variety of fruits and vegetables, can help reduce inflammation and promote healing. Staying hydrated is also crucial, as dehydration can decrease disc height and increase the risk of disc herniation.

Medication

To manage the symptoms of a herniated disc, simple pain relief can be very effective. Anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, help reduce swelling and inflammation around the nerve roots. Analgesics, such as paracetamol, can help control pain levels. Muscle relaxants may also be used to ease muscle spasms.

Note that medication is rarely a long-term fix, and often loses its effectiveness over time. Medicines are best used to take the edge off your symptoms so that you can engage in long-lasting treatments such as exercise programs.

Ergonomic adjustments

We often hear that poor posture can cause back problems. But is that really true? It turns out that posture does not have a direct impact on the health of our backs. You might know someone with poor posture who has no pain. And you might know someone with perfect posture who still has back issues3.

So, what is happening here?

If you feel that your workstation is set up awkwardly, it can make you uncomfortable. Adjusting your workspace to be more ergonomic can help. However, research shows that it is more important to move regularly than to sit or stand perfectly straight. If you work at a desk, take regular breaks to walk around. If you have a standing desk, switch between sitting and standing. If you are on your feet a lot, shift your weight from one side to the other and take breaks when possible.

Retraining your pain

To understand how we can influence our brain's interpretation of pain, it is essential to recognize that pain is not just a physical sensation. It is a complex experience influenced by emotions, thoughts, and the environment.

The first step is to identify what makes your pain worse. This could be stress, negative thinking, or specific activities. Once you know these triggers, you can start to change them. This might involve eating a healthier diet, improving your sleep, staying active, or learning new ways to think about and respond to these triggers. With time and practice, you can teach your brain to handle pain differently. This can make the pain less intense and less of a problem in your life.

Sleep

Getting good sleep can be challenging when you're dealing with back pain, but it's crucial for recovery. Here are some tips to enhance your sleep and overall well-being:

  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Aim for eight hours of sleep and keep your bedtime and wake-up time the same each day.
  • Limit naps to ensure they don't affect your nighttime sleep.
  • Stay active during the day to help you fall asleep more easily at night.
  • Establish a bedtime routine that avoids screens. This helps your mind unwind before sleep.
  • Make your bedroom a peaceful environment. Keep it dark and quiet.
  • Monitor your caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon and evening, as it can linger in your system and disrupt sleep.
  • Avoid heavy meals and alcohol before bedtime, as they can interfere with your sleep.
  • Incorporate relaxing activities outside of sleep. This can help you manage your symptoms and sleep more effectively.

When to seek medical attention

If your symptoms are new, or if you are experiencing persistent back pain due to disc herniation that does not improve with time or lifestyle changes, it is crucial to consult a healthcare provider.

At MoreGoodDays®, we've crafted a program grounded in scientific research to support you in dealing with chronic back pain. Our approach helps dispel common myths about back pain, focusing on understanding its root causes, identifying triggers, and learning to alter your body's reaction to pain using neuroplasticity principles.

We provide tailored coaching and a range of tools to guide you in managing pain, supporting mental health, and enhancing your overall quality of life.

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