What is a Muscle Spasm?
A muscle spasm is an involuntary contraction within any of the muscles of your body. This means that your muscles suddenly tighten without your conscious intent. Spasms can occur within any muscle of the body – from part of a muscle, up to several muscles within the same area. Anyone can experience a muscle spasm, however people who overexert their muscles are at higher risk. There are two types of muscles spasms:
Acute muscle spasms: These spasms occur from overuse, injury, dehydration or lack of proper warm up before exercise. A spasm can be painful and can last for a few seconds and potentially recur several times before disappearing. An example of this would be a muscle cramp. Overall, these acute spasms won’t last longer than two weeks and can be treated by a soft tissue occupational therapist.
Permanent/chronic/recurrent muscle spasms: These spasms occur from poor muscle recruitment, poor postures, repetitive movements, injury or from underlying conditions such as arthritis or spinal disc degeneration. These spasms are painful, longer lasting and are more forceful. These spasms will recur for longer than two weeks. A soft tissue occupational therapist will assist you in treating and preventing these recurring muscle spasms.
Muscle Spasms May Cause You to Feel the Following Symptoms:
- Hard and tight muscles
- Feelings of stiffness
- Difficulty moving
- Tender spots or hypersensitive spots (aka trigger points)
- Referred pain
This pain can impact you by causing prolonged pain or discomfort during your day-to-day life. Pain caused from a muscle spasm may also prevent you from completing activities you enjoy – such as exercise or another hobby. Pain or restricted movement can also make your daily activities such as dressing, brushing your teeth, cooking or cleaning much more difficult. Pain can also affect your mental health, reducing your quality of life, reducing your efficiency, motivation and mood.
Trigger points are bands of tightened muscle fibres that cause pain, tightness and difficulty with movements. You may understand trigger points more commonly as muscle ‘knots’ and they are painful or sensitive to the touch. Trigger points can cause pain outside of the muscle – known as referred pain. An example of this are trigger points within the neck causing headaches.
Cause and diagnosis of permanent muscle spasms
Spasm may occur from:
|Acute spasm||Chronic spasm|
Working/exercising in a hot environment
As a protective mechanism
Lack of proper stretching/warm up before exercise
|Poor posture |
Spinal disc issues
The list within the acute spasms can also impact and exacerbate the severity of your chronic spasms.
If you would like a diagnosis and remedy for your muscle spasms, get in touch with a soft tissue occupational therapist.
To prevent muscle spasm in the future be sure to:
- Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, especially in a hot environment or before and after exercise
- Take frequent breaks from activities that cause sustained postures (eg: talking a walk if you sit at a desk a lot)
- Warm up before and after exercise
- Warm up before and after manual labour
- Frequent stretching
Muscle spasm remedy
Stretching can provide muscle spasm relief as it creates the opposite effect of what a spasm does – lengthening the muscle instead of tightening it. Stretching helps reduce tension and tightness that can contribute to the formation of trigger points. Because muscle spasms can occur within any muscle of the body, there are too many stretches to list here and now. Check out our other blogs for specific stretches for your affected body part. If you have difficulty with this, a soft tissue occupational therapist can provide appropriate stretches specific to your muscle spasms.
- Heat therapy
Apply a heat pack to the part of your body experiencing spasms. You can also take a hot shower or a warm bath. The heat allows your tense muscles to relax and increases blood circulation in the area to allow for muscle repair. Your muscles should feel more flexible and have more range in movement. Heat therapy should be limited to 15-20 minutes at a time, as to not aggravate your skin too much and accidentally cause superficial burns.
- Why you shouldn’t use ice therapy
Avoid using ice as it reduces the healing response of the body and causes your muscles to tighten, potentially making trigger points and making pain symptoms worse. Ice therapy is usually recommended to help alleviate swelling and pain within the muscles. However, recent evidence states that ice delays the healing response. Inflammation is a necessary component within the muscle healing response, as it encourages the activity of your immune system to repair damaged tissues. In other words, inflammation is a good thing! By placing ice on an inflamed body part, you reduce this positive immune response, reduce the blood flow to the area and cause further tightening of the damaged muscle your body is trying to heal. Ice is only helpful to alleviate pain – this can be managed by anti-inflammatory medication instead. In the long term, ice is detrimental to healing.
- Anti-inflammatory medication
If you would like pain management without causing potential harm to your body using ice, take anti-inflammatory medication. Use of anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen/nurofen can help relieve your pain by reducing inflammation. Inflammation causes pain by compressing the surrounding area of the body to a small degree, such as the pain receptors. Unlike ice, anti-inflammatory medication will not make the muscles contract further. Have a discussion with your pharmacist if you are unsure what medication is suitable for you.
- Dietary supplements
Taking a dietary supplement such as magnesium powder can be beneficial in relieving pain. Magnesium helps reduce the inflammation within your muscles (especially within the neck and shoulder region) and prevent cramps, which may cause pain. Magnesium also acts to calm the neurological system and in turn, helps you sleep and reduces anxiety. Ask your pharmacist if magnesium is appropriate for you before you begin taking any.
- Foam rollers and massage balls
Use of foam rollers and massage balls can provide you with effective pain relief for muscle spasms as they provide a moderate amount of pressure to help relax your muscles. Take your foam roller or massage ball and roll along your affected muscle. Once you find a spot that is sore, hold your foam roller/massage ball in place until the pain and soreness reduces in severity. Continue rolling along your muscles, pausing and holding at every sore spot you come across.
- Stress relief
Muscle spasm pain may be a result from stress or tension. Your mental health has an impact on your physical body. For example, if you are stressed, you may find that your are unconsciously tensing the muscles of your neck and shoulders, by raising them. Be sure to take time to stop and relax for a few minutes on a daily basis – which is easier said than done! Practicing mindfulness is helpful in achieving this, as mindfulness gives you time to stop, take time out of your day and focus on what is happening in the current moment and within your body. A lot of stress is caused by a busy schedule and spending too much time thinking about the future of ruminating on negative things within the past. Using apps such as ‘Smiling Mind’ or ‘Stop, breath and think’ makes being in the present moment accessible through daily 10-minute mindfulness exercises and can help you feel more focused and in control. Stress relief may also involve a relaxing bath, taking time to participate in your hobbies, listening to calming music, or other activities such as taking a walk. If you are dealing with persistent and chronic stress, you may want to get in touch with a psychologist or counsellor.
Soft Tissue Occupational Therapy
Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment is ‘hands-on’ and focuses on treating musculoskeletal disorders of the body through diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. The overall aim of therapy is to heal and restore function to injured and weakened body parts, as well as to aid and promote wellbeing. Your soft tissue occupational therapist can diagnose the cause of your muscle spasms and provide effective remedy for muscle spasms. This is done through myofascial massage, dry needling and trigger point release therapy.
Exercise Physiologists specialise in the prescription of exercise to treat and prevent chronic pain as the result of a muscle spasm. An exercise physiologist will assess your mobility and stability to find the exact cause of your muscle spasm and prescribe a program accordingly.
At Urban Health HQ our highly trained Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist will help treat your injuries, conditions or any concerns you may have. You can make an appointment today or contact us by calling 0411 563 391 or email firstname.lastname@example.org