What Causes Muscle Spasms And How Can You Treat Them

muscle spasmsMuscle spasms occur when muscle fibers contract involuntarily.  There are three types of muscle fibers: skeletal muscles, smooth muscles and cardiac muscles.  Smooth and cardiac muscles control involuntary functions such as digestion and heartbeat.  Skeletal muscles are the muscles that move voluntarily during walking, running and writing.  Sudden muscle spasms usually occur in skeletal muscles.  Understanding the causes can help reduce the incidence of these painful and disconcerting muscle spasms.

Muscle Spasms And Dehydration:

According to Medline Plus, dehydration is the most common cause of muscle spasms occurring during strenuous activity.  Muscles require an adequate supply of water to function correctly.  They must also have electrolytes and certain vitamins for voluntary muscle movement to take place.  If these elements are lacking, muscle spasms can result.  Avoiding dehydration by drinking the recommended eight glasses of water per day is beneficial.  Drinking even more water when exercising— on especially hot days—is another helpful strategy.  Sports drinks containing additional minerals and electrolytes may be useful for relieving cramps caused by dehydration.

Symptoms Of Muscle Spasms:

Muscle spasms may occur with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.  For muscle spasmsexample, severe skeletal muscle spasms may be accompanied by bruisingand swelling of the area.  Muscle spasms that are caused by a disorder affecting your whole body, such as hypothyroidism, may be associated with weight gain, depression, and fatigue.  Additional symptoms that may occur include:

  • Clumsiness or problems walking
  • Flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, sore throat, fatigue, headache, cough, aches and pains)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle symptoms, such as aches, pains, spasticity, rigidity and weakness
  • Numbness, tingling or burning sensations (called paresthesias)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Swelling at site of cramp

In some cases, skeletal muscle spasms may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition, such as acute dehydration or spinal cord trauma.  Smooth muscle spasms in the arteries of the heart can cause angina or heart attack. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of the following symptoms:

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness such as passing out
  • Change in mental status, such as confusion or disorientation
  • Chest pain radiating to the arm, shoulder, neck or jaw
  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
  • Inability to move any part of your body
  • Loss of vision
  • No urine output
  • Progressive weakness and numbness
  • Seizure
  • Stiff neck with a high fever

Treatment Of Muscle Spasms:

muscle spasmsWhen muscle cramps occur, there are several things you can do to help ease them, such as massaging, stretching, or icing the muscle, warming the muscle, or taking a bath with Epsom salt.

For a charley horse in the calf or a cramp in the back of the thigh (hamstring), try putting your weight on the affected leg and bending your knee slightly, or sit or lie down with your leg out straight and pull the top of your foot toward your head.  For a cramp in the front of the thigh (quadriceps), hold onto a chair to steady yourself and pull your foot back toward your buttock.

To help reduce the risk of muscle cramps in the future, try the following:

  • Eat more foods high in vitamins and magnesium and calcium.
  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Stretch properly before exercise.

In most cases, self-care measures are sufficient for dealing with muscle cramps, which typically go away within minutes.  But if you experience them frequently or for no apparent reason, you should speak to your doctor.  They could signal a medical problem that requires treatment.

Many other things can cause muscle spasms.  Certain medications, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, muscle fatigue, kidney failure and hypothyroidism all can cause muscle spasms.  Other causes include cold temperatures, nerve damage, fatigue and neurodegenerative disease.  And, some people will just experience mild, brief muscle spasms from time to time without any underlying cause.

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Originally born and raised in Woburn Massachusetts (love my Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins!) I made my trek northward to the beautiful state of Maine back in October 2003 after marrying my college sweetheart. We began a family in 2004 and I am happy to say that we have 4 happy, healthy, beautiful children that bring an amazing amount of joy to our lives! I am also a type 1 diabetic. Diagnosed back in 2006 (out of the blue), at a routine doctors visit. Diabetes has single handed-ly been the biggest obstacle that I have faced in my life. At the time I had no idea of what a roller coaster ride I would be in for, I mean really, what's a couple finger sticks a day and a couple shots of insulin for food...this will be easy, I got this! Well 2 ER visits later, I quickly found out that this was no joke, and if I wanted to see my little ones grow up, this was something that I needed to take seriously! Little by little as we began to digest all of the information that was being thrown at acting insulin, short acting insulin, lancets, test meters, test strips, ketone sticks, carb counting, food groups, glucagon emergency kits, insulin pumps, glucose monitors...OMG, my head was spinning like a top!! After a couple of crazy years, I can happily say that I am well controlled and feel absolutely amazing! Not to be lost in all of this either is the amazing support of my wife. She has been my rock! She has been with me every step of the way, from 2am finger sticks to helping me change out a failed pump in the middle of a crowded restaurant. She truly is an amazing wife and mom and I can't imaging my life without her love and support- love you babe!

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