Back muscle pain comes in a variety of guises. Like muscle spasms, muscle pain and inflammation is one of the body’s ways of taking care of itself, and you will see it listed as a result and/or symptom of many of the back pain issues. This automatic response to infection from invading bacteria or viruses, disease, or injury is a healing process marked by enlargement of the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in the affected area, redness, heat, swelling, pain, and sometimes loss of function that helps the body eliminate poisons and heal damaged tissue.
Spasms Causing Back Muscle Pain
Caused by anything from emotional stress to the body’s effort to protect a damaged part by keeping it immobilized, muscle spasms are involuntary, powerful, and sustained contractions of muscle or muscle fibers. They are a very common cause of upper back muscle pain, and are associated with many of the problems of back pain.
Normal muscle contractions are what allow us to move and occur when nerve fibers relay messages from the brain to the muscles to tell them to contract – or shorten. Muscle spasms happen when the muscles contract too much, for too long, and not from conscious effort. The pain comes, in part, from the direct effect of muscle spasm on mechanically sensitive pain receptors. The muscle “squeezes” the pain receptors, like someone squeezing your arm, and that hurts.
Muscle spasm can also cause pain indirectly by compressing blood vessels, which decreases blood flow and denies oxygen to tissues, which in turn stimulates chemically sensitive pain receptors. The muscle spasm also increases the rate of metabolism (the energy-burning capacity) in the muscle tissue at the same time, which makes the tissue need more oxygen at the same time as it is being deprived of it. Ouch.
Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS)
In several ways resembling fibromyalgia, with which it is often associated, myofascial pain syndrome is characterized by a chronic, generalized ache that occurs in the muscles and connective tissues without a detectable cause and provokes tenderness at soft tissue sites. Unlike fibromyalgia’s “tender points,” however, MPS trigger points cause referred pain – you hurt in an area other than the trigger point site, and not necessarily along the path of the nerve associated with the area. Another diagnostic signal is the local twitch response: an involuntary muscle movement that sometimes occurs when a finger is rolled over the trigger point.
Treatment for myofascial upper and middle back muscle pain is mostly non-medicinal, with physical therapy, muscle stretching, and massage playing the major roles.