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Muscle spasms – Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Muscle spasms are painful muscle contractions and tightness that are common, uncontrollable, and sometimes unpredictable. Certain strategies can be followed to prevent muscle spasms or to treat them, but they may not always be effective. They are also called Charley horses or muscle cramps or twitches.

What are the causes of muscle spasms?

Muscle spasms can affect any area of the body, although they are most commonly found in the following areas:

  • Feet 
  • Hands 
  • Arms 
  • Thighs  and calves

Muscle spasms can also be caused by muscle soreness, exhaustion, and overuse of muscles. It can occur amongst athletes who do not warm up before heavy workouts. However, they are more common in people with health conditions, such as nerve disorders or thyroid issues . 

What do muscle spasms feel like?

Muscle spasms are not always uncomfortable and may appear as the muscle is jumping or moving on its own, lasting only a few seconds. Some people may be able to see the muscle twitching. It may also feel like the entire muscle has become stiff and immobile.

What are the symptoms of muscle spasms?

When a muscle spasm occurs due to a neurological problem, the person may show additional symptoms, including:

  • Muscular weakness
  • Skin numbness
  • Discomfort in the back, neck, or head 
  • A sensation of pins and needles 
  • Tremors 
  • Paralysis 
  • A lack of cooperation 
  • Slow motions 
  • Issues with sleep 

When to see a doctor during muscle spasms?

Muscle spasms, twitches, or cramps are usually not considered serious and are quite common in athletes and others who exercise regularly. 

However, they can be due to any underlying health problem such as multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, or liver cirrhosis. They may also indicate issues with: 

  • Nutrition 
  • Circulation 
  • Metabolism 
  • Nerves 
  • Hormones 

People with severe or painful muscle spasms should see a doctor. 

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How are muscle spasms diagnosed and treated?

Diagnosis

To diagnose the muscle spasm, the doctor will ask the following questions to the patient: 

  • How severe is the discomfort?
  • When do muscle spasms occur?
  • What is the duration of the cramps? 
  • The sensation of muscle spasms
  • When did muscle spasms begin to occur?
  • Any other signs or symptoms you are having.

Treatment

Muscle spasms are frequently self-resolving. They may take a few moments or even minutes to come to a halt, but they rarely necessitate medical assistance. They can also be caused by dehydration and can be relieved by drinking plenty of water. Furthermore, the following treatment options are also advised for treating muscle spasms:

  • Stopping any action that caused the cramp — for example, running 
  • Rubbing and gently stretching the cramping muscle 
  • Using a heating pad or ice pack to help loosen up tense muscles and relieve pain

Treatment options based on the location of the pain can include:

  1. For calf muscle – If the calf muscle hurts, the person should attempt putting their weight on the affected leg and slightly bending their knee. This will help stretch the muscle.
  2. For quadriceps – If the quadriceps, i.e., the muscles in the front of the thigh, are cramping, the individual can try putting the affected leg’s foot behind them and gently bringing it up toward their bottom while maintaining the knees together.
  3. For neurological conditions – Doctors may prescribe an antispasmodic medication if an underlying neurological problem is causing muscular spasms.

What are the preventive measures that can be taken for muscle spasms?

Muscle spasms are difficult to avoid. However, several techniques can prove useful in overcoming those complications and preventing muscular spasms: 

  • Flexibility exercises should be done regularly. 
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine. 
  • Medications with the potential to cause muscle spasms should be avoided. 
  • While sleeping on the back, use pillows to keep toes pointed upwards to avoid leg cramps.

Conclusion

Muscle spasms are fairly frequent, and they are nothing to be concerned about. Overexertion, dehydration, and stress are the most common causes. Muscle spasm duration can range from a few seconds to several minutes, although they normally pass without treatment. Relaxing, massaging the affected area gently, and using a heat or ice pack may be beneficial.

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