Select a Topic
- Diagnosing Muscle Spasms
- Muscle Spasms in Children
- What Causes Muscle Spasms?
- Help for Muscle Spasms
- Foods to Help Stop Muscle Spasms
What are Muscle Spasms?
Perhaps you’ve been sitting in front of your computer the whole day and suddenly you feel an unbearable tightness in your back when you get up. This tightness occurs when a muscle becomes rigid, contracts involuntarily and goes into spasm. The fibers within the muscle contract and tighten, thereby stopping the blood flow. Immediately discomfort and anguishing pain is experienced. When a muscle goes into spasm, the muscle cannot relax on its own or release with movement. Muscle spasms usually affect the neck, shoulder, back or legs, knees or abdominal muscles and often these areas are locked in spasm.
There are many factors that contribute to the muscle spasm. Often a muscle spasm is the result of strenuous activity when the muscles are overused or injured, particularly in the case of athletes. It can also occur when you move too quickly, sleep in a cramped position, bunch your shoulders sitting at a desk or overstretch your back muscles when something is not within your reach. Muscle spasms can also occur at night and are commonly due to prolonged sitting during the day or low levels of certain minerals in the body.
Spasmodic reactions can be brought on because of painful posture, poor nutrition and exposure to chemicals. Exposure to cold weather such as a draft on your neck can also cause a severe spasm and pain resulting in the inability to move or bend the neck at all.
Diagnosing Muscle Spasms
The common signs and symptoms include:
- Loss of function
- Abnormal muscle rigidity
- Difficulty in moving, turning or bending the neck, shoulder or back
- Pain in the affected area
Leg Muscle Spasms
Muscle spasms in the legs are quite common and usually present themselves in the calves, just below the back of the knee. Pain during a muscle spasm can range from mild to severe, and can last up to 10 minutes.
Poor circulation in the legs, alcohol consumption, high or low concentration of sodium or potassium, overexertion of muscles and some medication are among some of the reasons why leg muscle spasms occur. Eating a well-balance diet, keeping the body hydrated, stretching and elevating the feet at night can decrease muscle spasms.
Back Muscle Spasms
Many times back spasms are the result of inflammation or soreness of a particular muscle in the back due to sudden movement at an incorrect angle. Muscle spasms in the back are quite common, even over-straining the back muscles while completing household chores can cause spasms.
Involuntary back spasms are annoying and very uncomfortable to deal with. Many individuals suffer with pain so severe from a back spasm, it interrupts their daily life. Applying alternate hot and cold packs on the affected area can help soothe back pain due to the numbing effect it creates. Getting proper rest and stretching also helps back spasm sufferers.
Shoulder Muscle Spasms
Muscle spasms in the shoulder commonly occur when the muscles are strained from overuse during exercise or sports activities. The shoulders are very susceptible to overuse especially when performing a repetitive action or reaching for high objects off high shelves. Poor posture while sleeping can also cause muscle spasms, which usually causes a sharp pain in the shoulder blade.
When effectively relieving shoulder muscle spasms try alternating hot and cold ice packs or getting a massage to loosen up tight muscles. If the spasm is occurring due to strenuous physical exercise or repetitive actions, take a break from those activities for at least 5 days and try to limit the use of the shoulder muscles.
Neck Muscle Spasms
Having muscle spasms in the neck can limit the movement of the neck and will soon become very annoying and debilitating. Twisting the neck suddenly causes an over-stretching in the neck muscles leading to the inability to move the neck freely. When neck spasms are severe, day-to-day activities are affected.
Massage is an effective way to relieve neck spasms. Massaging improves the blood flow in the neck, which is restricted by spasms, thereby controlling neck pain. Also, using ice packs can help to relieve tight neck muscles.
Muscle Spasms During Pregnancy
Many women suffer from spasms during pregnancy with most of them affecting the legs. Around the second trimester of pregnancy is when a woman may start to experience spasms in the legs and may become worse with the progression of the pregnancy.
Although spasms can occur at any time many pregnant women report them occurring mostly at night. Taking a warm bath before bed can relieve tired or sore spasmodic muscles. Also, limit the amount of time spent on the feet and when lying down, lie on the left side of body to improve circulation to and from the legs.
Muscle Spasms in Children
Children can suffer from muscle spasms too. There could be a number of reasons for muscles in children. Low levels of potassium in the body may cause the onset of muscle spasms. Other more serious conditions include epilepsy, head trauma or a high fever. Since small children cannot verbally express themselves, it is important to see a pediatrician to rule out any serious conditions surrounding muscles spasms.
A child suffering from muscle spasms is often the result of a growth spurt, sometimes known as "growing pains". Growing children experience these painful spasms due to growing bones that are too long for tight muscles in the body. These spasms, usually occurring at night, can last anywhere from 1 to 15 minutes, and though can be very painful are usually very benign and of no cause for concern. Daily stretching and drinking plenty of fluids can help to relieve painful spasms.
What Causes Muscle Spasms?
There are many different causes of muscle spasms and they include:
- Medical conditions such as stroke, head injury, cerebral palsy, ruptured disk or nerve injury, multiple sclerosis, angina, colic, stomach flu, irritable bowel syndrome or "Parkinson’s Disease".
- Physical stress of working long hours, doing too much, feeling pressurized, overachieving, and not resting enough
- Poor nutrition, especially a deficiency of magnesium, calcium or potassium
- Acid Reflux
- Emotional stress caused by anxiety, panic attacks, frustration and anger
- Menstrual Cycle
- Overuse of muscles, injury or strain due to strenuous activity
- Exposure to pesticides
- Excessive nausea and vomiting
Help for Muscle Spasms
Treatment for muscle spasm will depend on the cause as well as whether this is an isolated incident or a chronic problem.
Medication, complementary and alternative treatments as well as natural remedies can speed the healing process and help you to become pain-free. It is also important to keep in mind that for treatment to be successful, a healthy diet, plenty of rest and exercise is important.
Emotional and psychological stress such as anxiety, panic, tension, frustration, or anger can also set off a series of reactions in the body that affect the nervous system. Spasms, muscle tension, pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders are symptoms that are commonly experienced when a person is under emotional stress. More serious conditions associated with development of involuntary muscle spasms include dehydration, cerebral palsy, trauma, multiple sclerosis (MS) or damage to the spinal cord.
Anti-inflammatories or antispasmodics can relieve the muscle spasms and restore balance to your system. These muscle relaxants affect each individual differently, and should be used in conjunction with alternative therapy such as physical therapy for best results.
Complementary and Alternative Treatment
There are various ways to relax the muscles and stop tension which include:
- Physical therapy
- Progressive relaxation exercises
Foods to Help Stop Muscle Spasms
People suffering from muscle spasms may have a potassium deficiency. Individuals that play sports are particularly susceptible to low levels of potassium and should include foods such as bananas, potatoes, prune juice and dried fruit into their diets. Also, including calcium fortified foods like seafood and fish, almonds, flaxseed, oats, parsley, prunes, sesame seeds, tofu and kale, can help to stave off muscle spasm. Avoid foods acidic foods and drinks like tomatoes and vinegar which blocks the body’s natural ability to absorb calcium.
More Information on Preventing Muscle Spasms
- Follow these useful tips to help you avoid developing muscle spasm:
- Keep your muscles loose and flexible by practicing stretching exercises.
- Slow down by pacing your activities and resting during the day.
- Keep your muscles warm when spasm triggers occur. Options include taking a hot bath or shower and dressing warmly when the weather becomes colder.
- Place a heat or ice pack on the affected area to relax the muscle spasm.
- Improve your posture by learning to balance your body (from front to back and side to side, while sitting, standing and walking) so that the muscles do not have to fight gravity to keep you upright.
- Drink enough fluids so that you can avoid muscle spasm and cramping during exercise.
- Lessen your intake of acidic foods such as tomatoes and vinegar.
- Eat foods containing potassium such as bananas, potatoes, soya flour, bran and apricots..
- Reduce tension and stress by practicing relaxation techniques
- Increase your intake of mineral and electrolytes such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.