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It's quite rare for a back spasm to lead to heart palpitations but it has happened. In fact, it happened just the other day. Josh Beckett was scratched from his scheduled start against the Blue Jays because of back spasms and across Red Sox nation heart rhythms went haywire fearing the worst. As it turns out, Beckett and the Sox had already made a pretty good decision.
"A muscle spasm is often your body's way of preventing you from doing more damage," according to Kathy Shillue, a Physical Therapist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "He did the right thing. He didn't ignore it and try to pitch through it. And, of course, he got treatment from the team's medical staff ."
That treatment included having cortisone injected into the muscles of Beckett's back. Beckett told reporters that small doses were injected into three "trigger points" and it was "not a big deal at all." But was it unusual?
"The usual treatment is to rest the muscles and apply some ice. It's not unusual to suggest an anti-inflammatory, because when the muscles spasm and lock up they become inflamed," said Shillue. "Most people don't get an anti-inflammatory injected. They might take an Alleve or some other NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). But then most people don't have to go out and pitch for a living."
Muscle spasms are certainly not uncommon, but unless there is some serious, underlying structural problem they are not necessarily recurrent. Shillue indicated that a person with a relatively high degree of fitness like Beckett would probably suffer no lingering effect. Beckett blamed faulty mattresses as well.
"Oh sure, if you don't have good support and you end up sleeping in an awkward position your muscles can get over-stretched," explained Shillue. "You wake up and go to reach for something and that's when it hits you."
There aren't too many occupations where hotel beds can be a concern, but the environment that many of us work in is ripe with hazards, according to Shillue. So much so that she spends part of her time working on office space rather than patients.
"Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has a tremendous incentive to keep workers healthy. They feel it is well worth it to have me spend some time doing ergonomic assessments around the hospital," she said. "Everybody who spends a good deal of time at a desk or using a keyboard should have his or her workspace set up properly. And it begins with proper posture.
"Your feet should be firmly on the floor, and your hips and knees should be at a 90-degree angle. You shouldn't have to reach for your keyboard. With your arms relaxed it should be positioned just above your lap. And your monitor should be straight ahead of you. You want your shoulders and neck to feel relaxed and you want to feel supported by your chair."
And the best piece of equipment is, of course, a fit, healthy body.
"Exercise is key. You don't want to over do it if you are just starting off, but maintaining some sort of regular exercise program will go such a long way. With good muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness, your chances of avoiding things like back spasms get a lot better," she said.
With a healthy Beckett, the Sox chances get a lot better too. No guarantees on your heart palpitations, though.