Contracture of the Back: Causes, Symptoms, Consequences, Treatment and Prevention

Our muscles contract and relax to ensure and facilitate movement of all kinds.

However, joint stiffness can occur when a muscle tenses or shortens, and the normal range of movement of the respective power can be reduced, in which case muscle contracture occurs.

The sensations of pain and stiffness that accompany the contractures of the back can originate in the muscle or the joint, ensuring the respective power’s movement. Severe back muscle contractions can be debilitating.

What are muscular contractures of the back?

Contractures are not injuries that affect the muscle itself but temporary or permanent deformities that reduce joint flexibility and the normal range of motion.

But because they affect muscle movement, they are more simply referred to as muscle contractures.

Muscular contractures of the back are a defense mechanism that prevents physical over-exertion that can lead to permanent damage in the form of loss of flexibility and freedom of movement of the affected area.

Causes of muscle contracture in the back

Muscle contractures of the back prevent us from pressing too much and risking severe damage to the joints and loss of movement.


In other words, they are the way our body tells us that we have gone too far, worked too hard, and need to rest to recover.

Some numerous reasons and factors cause and contribute to contractures in the back muscles:

1) Strenuous physical exercise: vigorous training routines that exert too much pressure on the spine can also reduce mobility and lead to severe back pain.

In addition, sudden torso movements or insufficient exercises also contribute to back contractures.

2) Do not warm up: muscle contractions of the back are more likely to occur if we do not warm up properly before engaging in physical exercise.

Inadequate preparation for physical exercise causes the spine muscles to perceive even an average amount of tension as more significant than it is, pushing the joints and muscles to their limits and risking injuries.

3) Bad posture: one of the effects of poor posture is muscle contractility. Spending too many hours at the desk, in front of a computer or television, will make us adopt an incorrect posture and can cause stiff joints and muscle contractions of the back.

Maintaining an incorrect posture during physical exercise can also cause spinal contractures. Working on the laptop in bed is the behavior that has caused me the worst muscle contractions.

4) Injury: Fractures, burns, nerve injuries resulting from trauma, or anything that causes our joints to lose their range of motion wholly or partially can cause contractures.

For example, bone fractures, broken ligaments, or tendon injuries require placing the affected area in a cast for several weeks. This reduces the mobility of the joints and can lead to contractures.

Likewise, more severe burns can prevent a standard range of movement in the joints of the affected areas and generate the same results.

5) Disuse, misuse, and immobilization: disuse refers to any reason, medical or other, that does not allow us to move freely.

The prolonged rest in the bed, the injuries that prevent us from moving the torso, having a cast, immobilization, sedentarism, etc., can, over time, cause contractures.

Misuse refers to not allowing the joints to get involved in the full range of movement they are capable of.

An injury to the back, shoulders, or hip or a burn near a joint can hurt us and make us fear-free movement, a situation that promotes joint stiffness and muscular contractures of the back.

6) Air currents and extreme temperatures: move from heat to cold without appropriately dressed; standing can cause muscle contraction.

Too much airflow and frigid air to the back can cause hardening of the muscles and pain, contractures, and pests.

Open windows when sleeping without a shirt, air conditioning, or a fan that blows directly towards us. Going out into the cold without dressing appropriately after being inside when it is hot and leaving the shower in the cold should be avoided.

7) Infection or disease: muscle contractions of the back are common in head injuries, childhood diseases, birth paralysis due to injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, stroke, and various nerve, muscle, joint, or bone infections, conditions and diseases.

However, contractures are not the only symptoms of such severe conditions.

What are the symptoms of contracture in the spine?

The contractures of the back are, by definition, painful. When they occur, we often feel that our muscles and joints are stiff, and each attempt at a normal range of motion is sad.

  • Joint and muscle pain and stiffness.
  • Limited range of movements.
  • Muscular weakness.
  • Limited use of the affected area.

Depending on the severity of the contracture and how we decide to handle it, the pain may be mild and allow us to do everything we did before the contracture or be severe and prevent us from lifting objects, sitting or sleeping in a particular position, adopting a confident posture during more than a few minutes, etc.

Disc disorders and muscle spasms

Conditions such as degenerative disc disease or herniated discs can cause an acute episode of pain in the spine.

A disc can herniate or bulge and compress a nearby spinal nerve root, causing irritation and inflammation. The body tries to immobilize the affected area to stop the pain by tightening the surrounding musculature, and, as a result, painful muscle spasms occur.

The muscles can become too tight due to lack of exercise, excessive exercise, structural imbalances, dehydration, loss of electrolytes, or any combination thereof.

On the contrary, some muscle groups are too weak. When muscle imbalances become chronic, aberrant forces are transmitted to the spine.

As a result, a movement outside the norm can trigger an injury to the joint, ligament, or disc of the spine, which can cause spasms and back pain.

Because these structures are already “primed,” the event that triggers the spasm is nothing more than the proverbial straw that broke the back of the camel.

Muscle spasm in the lower back is excruciating and often debilitating in the short term.

When to seek help

If it burns or hurts, seek immediate medical assistance. Call your doctor if your ability to move your torso is suddenly limited.

Seek treatment for chronic diseases and underlying conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. The therapy can help reduce or prevent symptoms.

Evaluate and treat symptoms

Medical exam

When you see your doctor about muscle stiffness, you will be asked about your medical history and other symptoms you may experience. You can also ask which sign appeared first. This is to help determine the underlying cause. Your doctor will probably ask about:

  • The specific location of your problem in the back.
  • The intensity of your symptoms.
  • How much movement do you still have?
  • How long has your activity in that area been restricted?

They will also perform a physical exam to locate your pain or stiffness. And you may have to have blood or other lab tests, including x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs.

Once your doctor determines the cause of your muscle stiffness, they may recommend treatment.

Physiotherapy / occupational therapy

Physical therapy sessions require regular assistance to obtain better results. Your physiotherapist / occupational therapist can show you exercises to do at home. They can also provide practical therapy to improve their mobility.


You may need to use a back support to help stretch the tissues. A continuous passive motion machine can be used to keep moving the back.


Your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce inflammation and pain. In patients with cerebral palsy, botulinum toxin (Botox) is sometimes injected into the muscles to reduce tension and minimize spasms.


Surgery may be necessary to lengthen the muscles or repair damaged ligaments, tendons, or bones in an accident.

For example, your surgeon may repair a ligament in your shoulder, hoping you will regain full range of motion in the long term. When a joint is replaced due to arthritis, contractures are released.

Capsular contracture

Capsular contracture results from the immune system’s abnormal and excessive response to foreign material being implanted in the body.

A capsular contraction occurs when a capsule or membrane attempts to encircle or isolate a foreign object surgically implanted in the body. This happens as the body’s best effort is to protect itself from the foreign object.

The protective capsule is made of dense and strongly woven fibers of collagen material. As the capsule squeezes naturally and presses on the foreign object, it can be excruciating and cause a physical distortion and loss of regular use of that part of the body.

Occasionally, surgery to correct capsular contracture will only cause a recurrence of another capsular contraction as the body continues to defend itself from more foreign implants.

As implant surgery improves and becomes more popular, less capsular contraction develops after surgery. Better surgical techniques and improved prosthetic equipment have reduced the incidence of the capsular membrane:

  • Better prosthesis placement within the participation area.
  • Textured or coated polyurethane implants.
  • Little manipulation or manipulation of the implants during surgery.
  • Minimum implant contact with the skin before insertion.
  • Intense irrigation of the implant site with antibiotic solutions.

Functional electrical stimulation

Functional electrical stimulation is used to stimulate a muscle with electricity to move. Ask if functional electrical stimulation is proper for you.

Cast in series

Series casting is used to help your joints extend. A cast is applied over a joint that begins to contract. The plaster will be applied, removed, and reapplied every 3 to 5 days.

Each time the cast is reapplied, the joint will extend further. The goal is for the collective to grow over time until it returns to the correct length.

Consequences of delaying treatment

Delaying or giving up treatment may make it difficult or impossible for you to regain your range of motion. Rigid muscles, joints, and skin can interfere with the performance of everyday tasks at home and work.

Contact your health care provider if:

  • You have a joint that is beginning to contract.
  • You have trouble doing your range of motion exercises.
  • You have problems with spasticity.
  • You have redness, a blister, or an open sore.
  • You have pain, swelling, or burning in your back.
  • Your shoulders or arms are abnormally numb or pale.

People with diseases such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis should receive ongoing medical attention for the best results.

If you have been in the hospital for an extended period or have been injured, you must tell your doctor about any stiffness or loss of movement.

Stretches to get rid of a stiff back

Back pain and stiffness of contracture can occur for many reasons. Maybe I lifted something weighty or was hunched over a garden all morning. Usually, the pain is not severe enough to require medical attention.

Most back pain will eventually go away on its own. However, several stretches can speed up the process, which helps relieve the contracture and back pain stiffness faster.

This is what we can do and avoid doing to help us overcome muscle contractures of the back more easily and quickly:

1) Rest: the first and most crucial step to treating a back contracture is rest, so you have time to recover your flexibility.

To prevent the contracture from worsening, it is essential to stop intense physical exercise for two or three days and up to a week (or longer, as directed by your doctor). However, resting does not mean staying still or sedentary, just taking it easy.

2) Keep your joints moving: if the contracture is not severe, we can always massage the affected area very gently to maintain blood flow and nerves detecting and moving the joints with gentle movements as much as they allow us to do it several times a day.

Avoid applying too much pressure where it hurts or goes beyond the range of motion your joints allow during contracture. If the contracture is severe, physiotherapy may be necessary.

A trained physiotherapist can safely ensure that our joints go through their full range of movements and stretch muscles by promoting flexibility and supporting recovery.

Lie on your back, bend the right knee and move it along the body to the left until it is close to the ground. Your shoulders and back should stay flat on the floor. Hold for approximately 10 to 20 seconds and switch sides.

To help prevent muscle stiffness caused by contracture, try the following:

  • Practice good posture
  • Make sure your furniture at home and work provides comfort and support.
  • Take regular breaks, get up, walk and stretch every so often to keep your muscles loose. Setting up an alarm or desktop notification as a reminder may be helpful.

3) Heat treatment: Take showers with hot water, put on a jacket when you go out and even when you sleep if you have a contracture in the back, cover the muscle and joint affected and avoid feeling cold or use an electric blanket when you feel cold.

Also, use an infrared lamp when your contractures are too painful, and your movements are minimal.

4) Go to your doctor: it is always important to see your doctor whenever something is wrong.

Your doctor is also the best qualified to recommend the best pain control medication if you are, say, allergic to certain drugs or feel that you are experiencing side effects that are too strong for others, adjust your doses, detect a possible infection, diagnose a torn muscle, broken tendon, etc.

Your doctor may recommend several other procedures, from functional electrical stimulation to surgery.

5) Eat well and take your vitamins: Eating well is crucial for each type of recovery because the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients we obtain from our foods help heal the body.

And because it is unlikely that we will get all the nutrients we need from our diets, especially at times like these, when our requirements tend to increase, we can count on quality supplements to provide us with the missing amounts of nutrients.

In general, preventing muscular contractures of the back is more accessible than treating them; that is why it is better to learn to avoid the causes that can lead to tensing our joints and muscles to such an extent.

6) Calcium and magnesium: are essential for muscle health. The recommended daily amount of calcium is 1,000 milligrams for young adults and 1,200 milligrams for women over 50 and men over 70. Familiar sources of calcium include:

  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Rice milk and almonds.
  • Soy foods, including soy milk.
  • Fortified orange juice.
  • Salmon.

While it is rare, severe magnesium deficiency causes muscle problems. The national average magnesium intake for Americans is 350 milligrams. It is recommended that we obtain 400 milligrams of magnesium per day.

Magnesium sources include:

  • Nuts
  • Fish.
  • Avocados
  • Seeds.
  • Bananas
  • Legumes of dark green leaves.

7) Water: make sure you have enough water in your body; this helps your muscles work better. Many experts recommend eight glasses of water or other healthy drinks every day.

If you are active and sweating, you should have extra water. One study found that dehydration during exercise increases the possibility of muscle damage and causes more muscle pain.

Preventing the deformity of the back due to contracture

Regular exercise and an active lifestyle can help prevent muscle and joint stiffness. Ask your doctor or physiotherapist what the best exercise program for you is.

When playing sports or lifting heavy objects, be careful to avoid injuries to the spine.

If you are injured, consult your doctor immediately. Follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations to help prevent contracture. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and devices that passively move joints can also help prevent problem areas from hardening.