Many clients complain of muscle tightness, pain or spasms. But what exactly are muscle spasms, how do they develop, and how can we treat them? Usually, muscle spasms are normal responses to muscle overexertion, pain, or fatigue. However, in some cases, they may be caused by more serious underlying conditions. It is important to visit your GP or a trained health professional if you are experiencing regular, painful muscle spasms that are impacting on your ability to engage in day to day life.
What Is A Permanent Muscle Spasm?
A permanent muscle spasm is a painful, involuntary contraction of one or more muscles. They often occur from an abnormally sustained muscle contractions within any smooth or skeletal muscle within the body. For the purpose of this article we will discuss skeletal muscle spasms. Skeletal muscles are attached to bones, either directly or via a tendon. When the muscle contracts, the relative body part will move. Hence, these muscles are responsible for voluntary movement, locomotion and upright posture. Skeletal muscles require adequate levels of oxygen, glucose, water and electrolytes, supplied by the bloodstream, to function effectively.
Types Of Muscles Spasm
Acute muscle spasms can result from overuse, injury, dehydration and metabolic changes within the muscle. These types of muscle spasms are involuntary and can last from a few seconds to a number of minutes, they are often intense and painful. Acute muscle spasms are relatively harmless and can be easily resolved with the correct treatment. For example, an acute muscle spasm may occur if an athlete has not warmed up adequately prior to intense exercise.
Chronic, recurrent, permanent or widespread muscle spasms are longer lasting sudden, forceful and involuntary contractions of one or more muscles. A chronic muscle spasm occurs from an abnormally sustained muscle contraction and is very painful. They are often a result of poor muscle recruitment, repetitive and/or prolonged movements and poor postures. They can also result from underlying anatomical problems or conditions, such as degenerative disc disease or osteoarthritis, due to the instinctive inflammation of the muscles surrounding the condition.
Muscle cramps can be considered as a type of acute muscle spasm. They present as an abrupt, unpleasant and painful sensation caused by sudden muscle contraction or muscle fiver over-shortening. Muscle cramps are usually short lived, however, general muscle soreness may continue for up to a week.
Muscle twitches or fasciculation are involuntary, uncontrolled fine motor movements of small segments of the muscle. These tiny muscle spasms can often be seen underneath the skin as mini twitches. Muscles prone to fasciculation include the thumb, calf, thigh and eyelid.
What Causes A permanent Muscle Spasm?
A person may experience muscle spasming for a number of reasons; with each cause dependent on predisposing factors such as the part of body involved and the environment that the body is in. Common causes include the following:
- Muscle fatigue
- Overuse and/or over-training
- Low levels of the following electrolytes; calcium, magnesium, potassium or sodium
- Low levels of vitamin D
- Nerve damage
- Prior injury
Spasms may occur if a muscle becomes tired, due to overuse, straining or previous injury. A spasm may also occur if a muscle is exposed to a sudden, unexpected movement, is overstretched or is sustained in an awkward position for a prolonged period of time. With overuse or overtraining, the muscles cellular energy and fluid stores deplete, resulting in hyperexcitable muscle which is prone to forceful contractions. A muscle spasm can involve a singular muscle, one part of a singular muscle or a group of adjacent muscles.
Muscle cells require adequate levels of water, glucose, calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium to allow for the proteins within the muscles to develop an organized contraction, and function effectively. If a person is dehydrated or lacking adequate levels of these electrolytes they have an increased risk of experiencing muscle spasming.
The cause of muscle spasm varies from person to person and should be explored by a health professional to determine the best approach to treatment.
4 Ways To Get Rid Of Permanent Muscle Spasm
- Regular trips to a Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist
Regular visits to a Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist can assist in the maintenance of muscles and reduce the likelihood of permanent muscle spasm. A soft tissue occupational therapist will conduct an assessment to determine high risk areas and muscles of the body, which may be prone to muscle spasm, and then provide hands-on neuromuscular techniques, such as trigger point therapy, myofascial release to improve functioning of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia. These neuromuscular techniques work to break down fibrous adhesions, releasing tight muscles and correcting improper muscle functioning and postures. A hands-on approach to treatment can help to resolve a tissue, joint or muscle imbalance and assist in increasing circulation of fresh, healthy blood towards an area increasing drainage of unhealthy, toxic fluid away from the area. This increased nutrition and removal of toxins from the damaged tissue enhances the body’s natural healing response and speeds up recovery and reduce the risk of muscle spasming. An occupational therapist will also explore lifestyle factors, such as sleep positioning or workplace ergonomics, which may increase the risk of muscle spasming and set up a personalized treatment plan that looks to reduce your chances of forming permanent muscle spasm.
Staying hydrated is one of the most influential steps you can take to reduce your likelihood of muscle spasming. A number of physiological and biomechanical functions throughout our bodies depend on being adequately hydrated, with one being the ability for your muscles to develop smooth, organized contractions. If your muscles are dehydrated and unable to form this smooth, organized contraction they are unable to contract effectively and efficiently, increasing the chances of muscle spasms. In addition, water aids in digestion and is important in eliminating waste products created from working muscles. So drink up!
- Electrolytes and Supplements
The main electrolytes needed by the body are sodium, potassium (especially for new muscle tissue growth), and chloride with calcium and magnesium playing key supporting roles. These function to help neuromuscular activity, such organized muscle contraction, which is why adequate consumption is critical in preventing permanent muscle spasm. A balanced diet rich in these electrolytes can help to maintain healthy muscle functioning and reduce muscle spasming, if you are unable to attain adequate levels from a balanced diet, supplements may be beneficial.
Foods high in:
- Calcium: Milk, leafy green vegetables, fish (such as sardines and salmon), nuts and seeds
- Magnesium: Dark chocolate, nuts (especially almonds, cashews, brazil nuts), bananas and leafy greens
- Potassium: Pumpkin, spinach, potatoes and lentils
- Sodium: Canned beans, celery, chicken broth and beets
Note: Low levels of sodium are rare in western countries due to a high salt diet.
Potassium intake is especially important for effective muscle functioning. Potassium is regularly used and is lost through muscle contraction and sweating. In contrast to sodium (which helps muscles to contract), potassium assists in muscle relaxation. Therefore, an inadequate level of potassium may increase the chances of a muscle spasming due to the muscles inability to relax after contracting.
Magnesium is another essential mineral for optimal muscle functioning. It’s job is to assist in regulating muscle contractions by blocking calcium, promoting muscle relaxation and repair. Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms including, tablets, capsule, power and topical ointments. Thus far, research demonstrates efficacy for the use of magnesium powder, as it is the most bioavailable form of the mineral. The recommended daily intake for women is approximately 320mg and 420mg for men.
Vitamin D is commonly associated with maintaining bone health, however, many people do not realise the influence vitamin D has on optimal muscle functioning. This important vitamin assists in the body’s ability to absorb calcium, a vital mineral which assists with muscle contraction. Inadequate levels of vitamin D can therefore lead to inadequate levels of calcium due to the bodies inability to effectively absorb calcium. Eating a healthy, balanced diet should be sufficient in providing all your vitamin D needs, especially in a warm climate where you are exposed to plenty of sun, such as Australia. Foods high in vitamin D include oily fish (such as herring, swordfish and cod liver oil), egg yolks and shiitake mushrooms.
Before you begin any new supplement you should always talk to your GP.
- Regular Stretching and Gentle Exercise
Regular gentle exercise and stretching is likely to assist in relieving pain resulting from permanent muscle spasm, it can help to speed up your recovery and even assist in preventing permanent muscle spasm in the future. Stretching works to lengthen the muscle and prevent contractures, assisting with muscle maintenance. Gentle exercise, such as walking, may also decrease the pain associated with muscle spasm and help to prevent permanent muscle spasm by encouraging circulation and blood flow to tissues, reducing muscle stiffness and spasm. Walking also works to stimulate the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, helping to make you feel better physically and mentally. Although gentle stretching is recommended it is best to use caution and consult your GP or Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist before you start a stretching regime, for your own safety.
At Infused Health our highly trained Soft Tissue Occupational Therapists will use a hands on approach to help treat your injuries, conditions or any concerns you may have. You can make an appointment today by calling 0401 876 623.