29 April 2013
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Relieving Muscle Spasms After Back Surgery – Conservative and Natural Remedies

back muscle spasms after spine surgery

Experiencing muscle spasms after surgery? Try the natural remedies below.

It is usual to feel some degree of pain after back surgery and most patients expect this. However, many patients also experience muscle spasms after back surgery – a symptom that can be uncomfortable, distressing and surprising for some.

Depending on the kind of surgery performed and the invasiveness of the procedure it may be that muscles were cut, bruised or pushed aside by an endoscope. As the structures and tissues of the spine settle down and inflammation subsides after surgery there may be cramps and spasms of the muscles in the back or down into the arms and legs.

Relieving Muscle Spasms After Back Surgery

Luckily, there are ways to relieve muscle cramps while recovering from back surgery, including getting pain-relief medications from the physician and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, unless advised otherwise due to spinal fusion being part of the surgical procedure. There are also natural options to relieve muscle spasms after back surgery, such as:

  • Gentle exercise, e.g. walking
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture and/or acupressure
  • Avoidance of sedentary position, i.e. make sure to move frequently
  • Moist heat, from a warm compress (avoid immersing incisions in water).

Muscles in the back may also go into spasm if they are overtaxed too quickly after surgery so it is wise to incorporate short periods of rest into the day and to avoid over-exertion until given the all-clear by the surgeon or physician. Some movement is good but too much too soon can reduce the chances of surgery being successful and increase pain, muscle cramps and spasms after back surgery.

Natural Antispasmodics for Back Pain Relief

As symptoms begin to subside patients are advised to begin reducing the dosage of their pain-relief medications and increasing the time between doses. Combining the above alternative therapies for muscle spasms with medications can help to relieve the symptom most effectively and reduce reliance on the drugs. Natural antispasmodic supplements for muscle spasms and cramps can also be helpful for some patients. These include things like:


  • Raspberry leaf (used by athletes for muscle cramps and by women for uterine cramps)
  • Peppermint (a popular remedy for gastrointestinal cramps and headaches)
  • Chamomile (calming to the nervous system and the stomach)
  • Cardamom (which can also relieve nausea associated with medications)
  • Liquorice (current evidence only supports use for smooth muscle spasms so far and it may raise blood pressure)
  • Lemon balm

Natural Remedies After Back Surgery

Other natural remedies (such as valerian, vervain, skullcap and passiflora) may help ease nerve pain and reduce any anxiety, tension and even post-traumatic stress after back surgery as well as aiding sleep. Caution should be applied over all of these remedies as they may interact with existing medications, cause an allergic reaction or have unintended side-effects, such as drowsiness that may impair driving ability and so forth. It is important that patients let their physicians know all of the supplements and medicinal products they are using so as to reduce risk of adverse reactions.

Massage for Muscle Cramps After Surgery

Another option that may help reduce muscle cramps after back surgery is a gentle massage using eucalyptus oil, another natural antispasmodic. Some such massage ointments also contain capsaicin, a hot pepper extract that can offer pain-relief. Using this in the area of incisions may be inadvisable due to the potential for skin irritation and capsaicin cream also stimulates blood flow to an area so may briefly increase swelling before pain relief is achieved.

Chronic Muscle Spasms After Spine Surgery

Where muscle spasms continue after back surgery it is important to undergo a thorough assessment as it may be that a spinal nerve is being irritated, that a secondary back problem has appeared or that hardware used during surgery has slipped out of place or been incorrectly positioned. Pain in the spine can be a result of a degenerated disc pressing on a ligament or nerve that connects to or innervates the back muscles. This pain and compression will sometimes lead to muscle spasms and so it may be that relieving the involuntary muscle activity will only come about by treating the underlying nerve or ligament compression.

Muscle Relaxants and Reassessment

Over time, where the muscles contract, cramp and spasm in an attempt to immobilize the spine in reaction to pain these movements can themselves accentuate the spinal degeneration. Muscle relaxants are not always the best course of action as the spine may very well need to be stabilized through this unfortunate muscle activity. Any onset of bladder or bowel incontinence, weakness or numbness in the legs, breathing difficulties or other serious signs should prompt an immediate medical consultation. Determining the cause of the back spasms after spine surgery is paramount in order to provide effective relief and reduce the risk of future spine degeneration.

References

Gilani AH, Jabeen Q, Khan AU, Shah AJ., Gut modulatory, blood pressure lowering, diuretic and sedative activities of cardamom. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Feb 12;115(3):463-72. Epub 2007 Oct 22.

Imagawa A, Hata H, Nakatsu M, Yoshida Y, Takeuchi K, Inokuchi T, Imada T, Kohno Y, Takahara M, Matsumoto K, Miyatake H, Yagi S, Ando M, Hirohata M, Fujiki S, Takenaka R., Peppermint oil solution is useful as an antispasmodic drug for esophagogastroduodenoscopy, especially for elderly patients. Dig Dis Sci. 2012 Sep;57(9):2379-84. doi: 10.1007/s10620-012-2194-4. Epub 2012 May 6.

Nagai H, He JX, Tani T, Akao T., Antispasmodic activity of licochalcone A, a species-specific ingredient of Glycyrrhiza inflata roots. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2007 Oct;59(10):1421-6.

Gilani AH, Khan AU, Jabeen Q, Subhan F, Ghafar R., Antispasmodic and blood pressure lowering effects of Valeriana wallichii are mediated through K+ channel activation. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Sep 14;100(3):347-52.

Rojas-Vera J, Patel AV, Dacke CG., Relaxant activity of raspberry (Rubus idaeus) leaf extract in guinea-pig ileum in vitro. Phytother Res. 2002 Nov;16(7):665-8.

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