June 27, 2022

How to Stop Throwing Out Your Back

In this in-depth post, you'll learn the causes of a "thrown-out back" and how to fix it

How to Stop Throwing Out Your Back

What Does It Mean To Throw Out Your Back?

Although it's not an actual medical term, the phrase "thrown out back" often describes an episode of acute low back pain that drastically interferes with being able to move. It feels "locked up," and just about every type of movement hurts. It hurts to sit down, it hurts to get up from sitting, and it even hurts to roll over in bed.

The most common source of pain is muscle spasms and a possible exaggerated inflammatory response. Even if there is an underlying injury, such as a disc bulge or sprain, muscle guarding is the main reason every movement feels so painful.

What Causes You To Throw Out Your Back?

There are several reasons someone might "throw out their back." Common causes are overexertion of the spine muscles, improper form with lifting, lumbar spine instability, or an underlying disc bulge, pinched nerve, or SI joint irritation.


This happens when someone performs a new strenuous activity that they're not used to or don't do very often. Examples are lifting and moving something heavy such as furniture or shoveling snow. It can also happen with prolonged exertional tasks such as gardening.

The demands placed on the spine muscles reduce circulation (blood flow and oxygen) and strain muscle fibers. When this happens, pain and spasms can result.

Poor Biomechanics

Sometimes, bending or lifting with poor posture places excessive force on the discs between the spinal bones or the small joints in the back of the spine. For example, the leading biomechanical cause of disc bulges is repetitive lumbar spine (low back) flexion (bending forwards). Also, excessive flexion of the low back while the muscles are also activated (coming up for bending) places more stress on the facet joints (small joints on the back of the spine.) Finally, excessive or repetitive flexion, while also twisting, can create even more stress on the discs or facet joints.

If the disc or joint is irritated enough, there can be an exaggerated inflammatory response that causes pain. If the disc bulge comes out far enough, it can irritate the nearby nerve, often called a pinched nerve. When discs, joints, or nerves are damaged, muscle spasms will sometimes result and be a component of the acute pain response.

Lumbar Spine Instability

The discs between the bones of the spine (vertebrae) are meant to act as spacers. They give more height between the vertebrae and are bendable, which allows us to move.

The second phase of a disc bulge is the flattening of the disc. When the disc height loses space, the vertebrae on each side are closer together and more susceptible to sliding out of place. When the bones move back and forth, it's called shearing. The shearing forces cause further wearing on the disc but can also create more stress on the facet joints.

Instability is also used to describe weakness or imbalances in the core muscles. The deep core muscles in the stomach, back, and hips are necessary for supporting the pelvis and spine during basic tasks and movements. When these muscles aren't strong enough, the spine is more susceptible to injury.

Treatment for A Thrown Out Back

During the acute phase of low back pain, managing inflammation and muscle spasms are essential to help relieve pain. The following are the most recommended treatments during the first two to four weeks of acute low back pain.

Heat vs. Ice for Low Back Pain

Ice is often the most helpful in controlling pain caused by inflammation. For example, if the muscle spasm results from an underlying injury, using ice might be the best option. However, heat may work better if tight muscles are the sole source of discomfort. Finally, some people use contrast therapy, alternating heat, and ice to reduce pain and inflammation.

Chiropractic Adjustments

Also known as Spinal manipulation, chiropractic adjustments can reduce muscle spasms through nervous system reflexes. Many researchers say spinal manipulations are like a reboot for the central nervous system. In addition to reducing muscle tension, spinal manipulations can alleviate pain and improve movement.


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help manage pain for those who do not have a medical condition with contraindications. Muscle relaxers can be helpful if the majority of pain is from spasms.

Stretches for A Thrown Out Back

When stretching acute low back pain, the proper location and direction are crucial. It's important to understand that you can worsen back pain by stretching the incorrect area or direction. For example, sometimes, bending forward causes more reflexive tension; like a rubber band, they rebound back. Sometimes, laying on the floor and bending backward gives the most relief after easing into it. However, in instances of a more severe disc bulge, backward bending can be harmful to the nerves.

Deciding which direction to stretch can be explored on your own with extreme caution. However, a spine health specialist such as a chiropractor in St. Louis can help you discover the best stretches to be doing from the start.

If stretching the low back seems to make it worse, it's recommended to discontinue back stretches for now. It's safer to keep the spine neutral and not move it for a few days.

However, stretching the hips can still be valuable and often give some relief. For example, stretching the backs of the hips, such as the piriformis muscles, or doing hip flexor stretches.

Body Awareness And Motor Control Exercises

Muscle spasms are reflexive (you're not consciously tightening them). They can be lessened through relaxation and breathing techniques. When the mind is calm, there is usually better body awareness, relaxation, and overall healing. Some common apps for beginners are Headspace and Calm. 

Gentle unloaded body awareness movements in the region can also help reduce nervous system excitation. An example is the cat/cow stretch, often used in yoga. It's important to understand that these movements should not be aggressive if dealing with muscle spasms. Instead, they should be slow and purposeful with the intention of achieving better body awareness.

How To Stop Throwing Out Your Low Back

Once there is an initial injury of "throwing out your back," there is greater susceptibility for it to happen again and again. The following are strategies to keep your back strong and reduce reinjury risk.

Improve Posture And Body Movement

The hips, pelvis, and spine should all move with good coordination. Quality movement will be sacrificed if there are asymmetries in tension or strength. An excellent first step is to work with a movement specialist such as a chiropractor or personal trainer. They can evaluate and educate you on your own personal limitations. The advantage of working with a sports chiropractor is that they can provide chiropractic adjustments and personal advice to work with on your own. For example, how to move more easily through the hips to reduce spine tension.

Core Strengthening To Stop Throwing Out Your Back

You learned that lumbar spine instability is a common reason for throwing out your back. Also, a lack of endurance in the back muscles is another reason people continuously throw out their back after exertion. The solution to all of this is a CONSISTENT core stability routine. However, a core strengthening routine should not be started until you're sure there is no significant injury or disc bulge. 

Keep in mind that some common core exercises, such as sit-ups and planks, have a high activation of the psoas muscle. In some types of back pain, too much activation of this muscle can be harmful. 

When out of the acute low back pain phase, some of the safer and foundational core exercises are side planks, bird dogs, and glute bridges. Once these exercises have been mastered, there are dozens of great options. Also, athletic training style exercises that focus on balance and stability simultaneously are excellent.

Move With Fluidity

In addition to core strengthening, moving while also being relaxed is essential. I've seen too many people focus so hard on core exercises that they've trained to be super-stiff in their spine muscles. This is why it is crucial to work on becoming more fluid with movements as well. The best example I can give is to consider athleticism. The biggest and strongest person is rarely the most athletic and coordinated. To prevent recurrences of back pain, stability and agility are needed.

St. Louis Chiropractor for A Thrown Out Back

We are a team of dedicated chiropractors in St. Louis that work with acute low back pain and recurring injuries. Our treatment plans are individually based, meaning you'll get precise answers for your condition. If you want more information on how we can help you, we're ready to take your call.