Muscle Spasms: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
A muscle spasm is a sudden, involuntary movement in one or more muscles. People may also call it a charley horse, muscle cramp, or twitch. These movements can happen in any body muscle, and they are prevalent. Muscle spasms often occur due to stress, exercise, or dehydration. They are usually not a cause for concern.
What are Muscle Spasms?
A muscle spasm is a sudden, unexpected tightening of one or more muscles. Sometimes called a charley horse, a muscle cramp can be excruciating. Exercising or working hard, especially in the heat, can lead to muscle cramps. Some medicines and illnesses also might cause muscle cramps. Muscle cramps aren’t usually harmful. Self-care measures can treat most muscle cramps.
Factors that might increase the risk of muscle cramps include:
Age. Older people lose muscle mass. Then the muscles can’t work as hard and can get stressed more easily.
Poor conditioning. Not being in shape for activity causes muscles to tire more easily.
Extreme sweating. Athletes who tire and sweat a lot while playing sports in warm weather get muscle cramps.
Pregnancy. Muscle cramps are common during pregnancy.
Medical issues. Having diabetes or illnesses that involve nerves, liver or thyroid can increase the risk of muscle cramps.
Weight. Being overweight can increase the risk of muscle cramps.
Signs and Symptoms of Muscle Spasms
Muscle cramps occur mainly in leg muscles, most often in the calf. Cramps usually last for seconds to minutes. After the cramp eases, the area might be sore for hours or days.
Muscle cramps usually go away on their own. They don’t usually need medical care. However, see a healthcare provider for cramps that:
- Cause severe discomfort
- Have leg swelling, redness or skin changes
- Come with muscle weakness
- Happen often
- Don’t get better with self-care
What Causes Muscle Spasms?
A muscle cramp can happen after working a muscle too hard or straining it, losing body fluids through sweat or simply holding a position for a long time. Often, however, the cause isn’t known.
Most muscle cramps are harmless. But some might be related to a medical concern, such as:
Not enough blood flow. A narrowing of the arteries that bring blood to the legs can cause cramping pain in the legs and feet during exercise. These cramps usually go away soon after exercise stops.
Nerve compression. Pressure on the nerves in the spine also can cause cramping pain in the legs. The pain usually gets worse with walking. Walking bent slightly forward, such as when pushing a shopping cart, might ease cramping.
Not enough minerals. Too little potassium, calcium or magnesium in the diet can cause leg cramps. Medicines often prescribed for high blood pressure can cause increased urination, which may drain the body of these minerals.
Treatment, Management, and Prevention of Muscle Spasms
Self-care measures can usually treat muscle cramps. A healthcare provider can show you stretching exercises that reduce the chances of muscle cramps. Drinking plenty of fluids can also help prevent muscle cramps.
If you keep getting cramps that wake you from sleep, a care provider might prescribe medicine to relax muscles or help you sleep.
If you have a cramp, these actions might help:
- Stretch and massage. Stretch the cramped muscle and gently rub it. Keep the leg straight for a calf cramp while pulling the top of your foot on the side that’s cramped toward your face. Also, try standing with your weight on your cramped leg and pressing down firmly. It helps ease a cramp in the back of the thigh too.
- Try pulling the foot on that leg up toward your buttock for a front thigh cramp. Hold on to a chair to steady yourself.
- Apply heat or cold. Use a warm towel or heating pad on tense or tight muscles. Taking a warm bath or directing the stream of a hot shower onto the cramped muscle also can help. Rubbing the sore muscle with ice also might relieve pain.
The recommended medication you can use:
- Baclofen – is in a class of medications called skeletal muscle relaxants. Baclofen acts on the spinal cord nerves and decreases the number and severity of muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis or spinal cord conditions. It also relieves pain and improves muscle movement.