Acute muscle spasms (also known as cramps) occurs when the skeletal muscle contracts involuntarily. Acute muscle cramps can last from a few seconds to up to ten minutes and are often painful. Acute muscle spasms are usually not serious and can often be treated easily.
Acute muscle spasms can be caused by range of factors so paying attention to your daily habits in relation to when you experience spasms may be useful in identifying potential triggers. Most muscle spasms may be caused by:
- – Dehydration
- – Low levels/imbalance of electrolytes and minerals (magnesium, sodium, calcium,potassium)
- – Physical exertion in heated environment
- – Over exercisingThere are many options for the prevention and treatment of acute muscle spasms, but for those who are looking for less invasive relief, here are six natural ways that may help relieve acute muscle spasm pain:
1) Soft tissue occupational therapy.
Occupational therapists assist people with engaging in daily activities. A soft tissue occupational therapist will assess the relationship between those activities and how a person’s muscles function. Soft tissue treatment focuses on reducing muscle pain, and increasing strength and flexibility. A soft tissue occupational therapist uses hands on therapy to release muscle tension and can also assess your regular routine to identify activities which may be contributing to muscle spasms, while also providing advice on how to modify activities to alleviate symptoms.
2) Stretching, exercise and hydration
A gentle stretch can help relieve a muscle cramp by lengthening it and breaking the spasm cycle. Routine stretching can also help to lengthen the muscle and prevent contractures. Because acute muscle spasms are contractions, continuingly lengthening it will help counteract this. Having a regular exercise routine that includes a warm up and a cool down may also assist with ensuring you prepare your body for the activities you are going to do. Staying hydrated throughout the day may also help to prevent muscle spasm. Dehydration can cause acute muscle spasms as your muscles require water to develop an organized and smooth contraction. When the muscle does not have enough water it is unable to contract correctly and may go into spasm. Your body also uses water to balance different minerals in your system in addition to helping the muscles function. During exercise, more water is used due to more frequent muscle contractions being required. This combined with sweating means that you may be losing more water throughout the day than you think so drink up and stay hydrated!
When you experience an acute muscle spasm or muscle cramp applying gentle heat to the muscle can relive the pain as it helps the muscle to relax. Warming the muscle also helps to stimulate blood flow to the area and can increase healing, therefore reducing pain. A heat pad or hot bath can be used to heat a sore muscle but there are also topical options. Tiger balm and eagle balm also heat the muscle due to high concentrations of menthol, an active ingredient that soothes muscles.
4) Salt baths
Salt baths such as Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) or magnesium chloride flakes may be beneficial to relief acute muscle spasm. Epsom salt and magnesium chloride flakes are used to help the body absorb magnesium to aid muscle recovery. The theory behind the use of
these remedies is once the salts are dissolved in water they are able to absorb into the body via the skin. Although this remedy lacks solid evidence, there are anecdotal studies that suggest it may still provide pain relief.
5) Increasing electrolyte intake
Muscles require magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium to function. If you become deficient in on of these your muscles may not function optimally. A healthy diet rich in electrolytes is a great way to increase your mineral levels and all of these can be found in common foods.
Magnesium: Nuts such as almonds and cashews are rich in magnesium as well as bananas and leafy greens
Sodium: Beetroot, celery, carrot, meat (note that due to Western diets being higher in salt, it is unlikely for someone experiencing acute muscle spasms to have low sodium levels)
Calcium: Broccoli, ricotta cheese, milk, almonds
Potassium: Avocados, spinach, watermelon, sweet potato, bananas
If you find that your acute muscle cramps do not improve with hydration and diet, you may require additional supplements. Potassium intake is especially important for muscle function and is lost through sweat and muscle contraction. Potassium helps muscles to relax (as opposed to sodium helping them to contract). A lack of potassium therefore may increase cramps as the muscle struggles to release after contracting. As of yet there is no recommended form of magnesium to take (pill, powder or liquid) but an electrolyte drink such as hydrolyte should be adequate. Potassium only supplements must be used with caution so talk to your doctor if you have any further concerns and to find what options would suit you best.
Magnesium is also vital for muscle function as it helps to relax and repair muscles. Magnesium powder is the gold standard for optimal absorption as it is the most bioavailable to the body. Men need around 420mg of magnesium per day, with women requiring approximately 320mg. There is also evidence that magnesium is better absorbed when it is taken in smaller doses throughout the day. For example, putting magnesium powder or effervescent tablet in your drink bottle one or twice daily and ensuring you are eating magnesium rich foods throughout the day is a beneficial way to stagger your intake.
6) Vitamin D
Although most people may only associate vitamin D with bone health, it is particularly important for muscle function. This is due to it’s role in helping the body absorb calcium. Calcium is important for the muscle’s ability the contract correctly, so with inadequate levels of vitamin D, your body may have trouble absorbing the calcium it needs. Fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel are good food sources for increasing your intake of vitamin.