A Muscle Spasm is an involuntary contraction of muscles or a sudden movement on one or more muscles in your body. People also term it as Charly Horse, Muscle Cramps, or Twitch.
These are very common and can happen in any muscle of your body. However, most of these occur due to stress, exercise, or dehydration.
But it is important to note that these are not a cause of concern.
Most often these are painful and tightening of your muscles or muscle contracts, and it can affect many different types of muscles that can lead to many different symptoms.
Muscle spasm in the skeletal tissues of your body is the most common type and are often due o overuse and muscle fatigue, dehydration, and electrolyte abnormalities.
What is Muscle Spasm?
These occur when your muscles involuntary and forcibly contract and can not relax.
Moreover, Muscle Spasm is very common and can affect any part and muscle of your body. They can involve any part or all of the muscle or several muscles in a group.
The most common areas that Muscle Spasms affect are thighs, calves, feet, hands, arms, and abdomen.
However, when they occur in calves, they are termed as Charly Horse while the leg cramps are termed as Nocturnal Leg Cramp.
Types of Muscles in your Body
Muscles are responsible for causing the involuntary contraction of a muscle in our body. There are three types of Muscles:
Heart Muscle: It pumps blood to the arteries and is also termed as Cardiac Muscle.
Skeletal Muscle: These muscles move the external parts of our body such as arms, legs, neck, back, trunk, and face.
Smooth Muscle: It moves portions of hollow structures in our body.
The muscles contract in our body as the activation of tension-generating sites within muscle fibers.
For instance, these muscles include the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines, muscles that line along large arteries, and that of the uterus.
What are the Causes?
There are a variety of causes of muscle spasms however, they depend upon the predisposing factors, the part of the body, and the environment in which the body is present.
Moreover, Muscle spasms can occur when we overuse our body, muscles are tired, injured, or strained.
Common causes of Muscle Spasm are as follows:
If we overstretch our body or hold it in the same position for longer periods of time it can cause Muscle Spasm.
As a result, the muscles in your body run out of energy and fluid. Thus becoming hyperexcitable and it results in a forceful contraction.
This spasm can involve part of your muscles, the whole muscle, or even the adjacent ones. Mostly occur in the leg muscle.
Overusing of muscles is often noticeable in athletes who do strenuous exercise in a hot environment.
Moreover, it can happen with workers that work in the field. When such a muscle spasm occurs it is called Heat cramps.
Other causes of Muscle Spasm
Some other causes of Muscle spasm are as follows:
Most often when we begin an unfamiliar exercise or activity, it can cause a muscle spasm.
Moreover, when you decide you use your abdominal muscles while doing sit-ups and repeating them over and over, it can cause Abdominal Spasm.
If you use small muscles of your hand for longer periods of time it can cause Writer’s Cramp.
Another cause of Muscle Spasm is Dehydration and loss of electrolytes. Muscles in our body need enough water, glucose, sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium to develop organized contraction.
However, an abnormal supply of these can become irritable and cause spasms.
Narrowing of arteries (Atherosclerosis) can also lead to Muscle Spasm. It is because of an inadequate supply of blood and nutrients to the muscles according to Mayo Clinic.
Charley horse is another type of spasm and can occur in any part of the body. However, they’re most common in legs.
Moreover, peripheral artery disease can decrease the flow of blood to your legs causing pain. It is also called Muscle Cramps.
Chronic neck and back pain can lead to recurrent muscle spasms.
It can affect large muscle groups in the trunk, lower and upper backs, and limbs. It can also be due to injury or develop due to arthritic changes of the spine.
Moreover, Obesity can cause stress and strain of the core muscles resulting in cramps.
Illnesses like diabetes, Anemia, Kidney Disease, and Thyroid disease can cause muscle spasms.
Certain disorders of our nervous system like Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Multiple Sclerosis, or spinal cord injury can cause muscle spasms in the long run.
Dystonias Cause Muscle Spasm
Dystonias is a movement disorder, in which a group of muscles forcefully contract and cause twisting.
You cannot control it and it causes an inability to main normal posture. The signs and symptoms may vary from mild to frequent and aggressive.
For instance, its type of muscle spasm includes Neck muscles, uncontrolled blinking of the eye, and laryngeal dystonia which affects speech.
The causes of Dystonia can also be the neurotransmitter chemicals within the brain, Basal Ganglia.
It produces chemicals like dopamine, acetylcholine, and GABA, which are responsible for sending messages from the brain to other parts of your body.
Moreover, the symptoms can occur as a complication of stroke.
Signs and Symptoms of Muscle Spasm
It is important to note that not all muscle spasms are painful. However, some can cause pain.
It can feel like your muscles or a muscle is jumping or moving on its own. However, it lasts only for a few seconds.
Some people might observe their muscles twitching.
In some cases, you might feel as though the whole muscle in your body has a cramp and cannot move. It is important to note that this happens mostly in the lower limbs, i.e. your legs.
You might observe that your muscles are hard to touch however the cramps pass with a few minutes or so.
These Muscle Spasms are painful and may continue to pain or hurt even afterward.
Additional Information: You will experience other symptoms if you have a neurological disorder. These might include pain in the back, neck, and head, weakness in your muscles, skin numbness.
Moreover, stinging sensations, a tremor, paralysis, poor coordination, slow movements, double vision, and sleep problems.
Diagnosis of Spasm
When you experience skeletal muscle spasms, due to excessive extortion of your muscles, you can diagnose them yourself.
However, if the spasm is severe and lasts for a longer time or keeps coming back, you need to seek advice diagnosis or treatment.
The doctor or a health care professional usually starts with a physical examination and medical history.
However, they will also try to understand the circumstances under which the Muscle Spasm occurs.
They will also ask you for additional information like your general health conditions, recent illness, or medications including OTC and supplements.
Your medical history can help your doctor diagnose if it is due to diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney or spinal cord injury.
Physical Examination and Medical History
In some cases, a physical examination may be normal however, it is helpful in understanding underlying health issues.
For people who have pain due to smooth muscle spasms, the pain may be severe enough that need immediate attention.
Your doctor will direct for physical examination and medical history to know the source of pain.
Kidney stones and gallbladder pain can sometimes cause pain and require anti-inflammatory or narcotic medications.
CBC Blood Tests
However, if you have recurrent muscle spasm, it can not be easily diagnosed with physical examination and medical history.
Your doctor may order blood tests that include CBC that looks for signs of anemia, electrolytes, glucose, and creatinine.
CPK Blood Tests
In case you have long and ongoing spasms, it may be due to muscle breakdown and damage to the muscles.
The healthcare provider will order CPK blood tests to detect the creatine phosphokinase enzyme.
It is an enzyme that your kidney releases into the bloodstream when there is damage or injury to the muscle tissue.
Your doctor or health care provider may order other tests for informational purposes only if these suspect peripheral artery disease or nocturnal leg cramps.
In such as case, they could order other tests like CT, MRI, or sleep studies.
If your doctor suspects peripheral artery disease, they will order an ABI (Ankle-brachial Index) That compares blood pressures in your arms and legs.
Moreover, they will order image tests like a CT scan or MRI to assess the blood vessels in your muscles.
In case they suspect Nocturnal Leg Cramps they might study your sleep patterns for informational purposes only as it is often associated with sleep disturbance.
The treatment options depend on the types of Muscle spam and its frequency. Let us discuss the treatment options.
Prevention is important to treat most skeletal muscle spasms, as dehydration and electrolyte disturbances cause them.
Hydration is important for your body. However, if the fluid loss is due to illness like vomiting or fever, controlling the symptoms can help limit the loss of fluid and prevent spasms.
In the same way, if you exercise or work in a hot environment, drinking plenty of water can help you.
You should prepare your muscles for an activity like an athlete do if you intend to exercise or lift weights.
If a large muscle of your body goes into spasm, the common treatment is to gently stretch the muscle back to length to break the cycle of spasm and resolve the acute situation.
However, further treatment depends on the underlying causes of the spasm.
In case you have an injury or strain in the muscles, you might need medication for short-term pain relief. These medications include anti-inflammatory medications like Advil, Mortin, Narcotics, and muscle relaxants.
In case your doctor diagnosis you with Nocturnal Leg Cramps they will prescribe quinine.
However, the side effects include abnormal bleeding problems.
They might prescribe you other medications like B-complex vitamins, gabapentin, etc.
In case, your doctor diagnosis Charley Horse, the treatment depends on the underlying cause of the spasm.
If Charley’s horse is a result of induced exercise, simple stretches and massages can help relax the muscles.
Heating pads can accelerate the healing process, however, an ice pack numbs the pain. If the pain persists your doctor will recommend using NSAIDs like ibuprofen.
Treatment of Dystonia Spasm
A number of possible treatments are available for Dystonia Muscle Spasm.
However, the treatment depends on the individual situation. To control the symptoms, the doctor may use a trial and error method to find the right fit.
The treatment includes:
Anti-Parkinson’s Drugs like trihexyphenidyl HCl and benztropine decrease the acetylcholine levels in your body.
Muscle relaxants that affect the GABA receptors. These medications include Valium and Baclofen.
Levodopa affects the dopamine levels in your brain.
A seizure control drug is useful in certain cases.
How long do They Last?
Skeletal Muscle Spasm lasts for a few seconds, however, you may need to stretch to muscle to resolve pain.
Smooth muscle cramps may last longer until your doctor diagnose the underlying medical condition and resolves it.
Involuntary contraction of a muscle twitching is a significant problem as it can last for longer periods of time and needs medications to control it or resolve the spasm and the pain.
The simplest way to prevent muscle spasms is to avoid or limit exercises that put a strain on your muscles and cause cramps.
Moreover, stretch or warm up before exercise and in sports, avoid exercising after eating, lower the intake of caffeine, and make sure to drink enough liquid.
Moreover, increase calcium and potassium intake and seek medical advice diagnosis about taking vitamin supplements.
In many cases, Muscle Spasm is common and you do not need to visit the doctor as they tend to resolve on their own.
Moreover, the most common cause is overexercising, dehydration and stress.
It is important to keep in mind that it is involuntary and feels like a twitch or a painful cramp and can occur in any part of the body.
However, in some cases, it can be an indication of an underlying medical condition and needs treatment as soon as possible.