5 Tips To Manage Permanent Muscle Spasm Pain

Permanent muscle spasm

A muscle spasm is an involuntary contraction within the muscles of your body. This means that your muscles suddenly tighten without your conscious intent. 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.

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.

Whether your muscle spasms are permanent or acute, a soft tissue occupational therapist can help you achieve pain relief and avoid muscle spasm in the future. 

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.  

Permanent muscle spasms may cause you to feel the following symptoms: 

  • Pain
  • Hardness
  • Tightness
  • Knotted
  • Stiff
  • Difficulty moving
  • Headaches
  • Tender/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 may also prevent you from completing activities you enjoy – such as exercise, sports 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 also takes a mental toll on you, reducing your quality of life, reducing your efficiency, motivation and mood.

Cause and diagnosis of permanent muscle spasms

Spasm may occur from:

Acute spasmChronic spasm
-Dehydration
-Working/exercising in a hot environment
-As a protective mechanism
-Lack of proper warm up before exercise
-Muscle overuse
-Electrolyte imbalance
-Muscle fatigue 
-Stress Tension
-Poor posture
-Muscle overuse
-Muscle injury
-Spinal disc issues
-Nerve problems 
-Neurological disorders

The list within the acute spasms can also impact and exacerbate the severity of your chronic/permanent muscle spasms. 

Muscle spasms usually occur when the muscle is fatigued, overused or strained. If the body undergoes an injury to the muscles or bones, muscles spasms are the body’s way of protecting itself from further injury. Acute spasm muscle pain generally self resolves within a week or two weeks. If the pain persists for longer, or you suspect you have a permanent muscle spasm you should get in touch with a soft tissue occupational therapist to get a proper diagnosis. They can diagnose spasm pain through postural assessments, movements and examining the affected area through muscle palpation.

Trigger points and referred pain

Muscle spasms can cause trigger points. A trigger point is a tightened area within your muscle fibres and may be very sensitive or painful to the touch. Trigger points may be more commonly referred to as muscle ‘knots’. These trigger points can cause pain referrals outside of the affected muscle. For example, a trigger point within the scalene neck muscles can cause referred pain to your chest and all the way down the outside of your arm to your fingers. These trigger point pain referrals can be easily misdiagnosed. A soft tissue occupational therapist will resolve this pain through the use of trigger point therapy. 

Soft tissue and muscle spasm

The soft tissue of the body involves the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and fascia, all which allow us to freely move and participate in activities. These soft tissues provide us the strength and flexibility to maintain our posture, and to support our movement. Unfortunately, the soft tissues of our body are prone to injuries such as: muscle tears, sprains, postural misalignments and other trauma, all of which require soft tissue occupational therapy or exercise physiology for treatment and recovery. Any of these injuries can cause muscle spasm. All these injuries can occur during our day-to-day lives, from work, exercise, hobbies, and even sleep may cause soft tissue issues. This reduction in our soft tissue function often leads to negative consequences to our health and quality of life. Therefore, it is important to look after our soft tissues and to maintain optimal strength throughout our lifespan.

Prevention

To prevent muscle spasm in the future be sure to:

  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, especially in a hot environment
  • Take frequent breaks from activities that cause sustained postures (eg: talking a walk if you sit at a desk for longer than 30 mins)
  • Warm up before and after exercise
  • Warm up before and after manual labour
  • Frequent stretching

Managing permanent muscle spasm pain

  • Stretching

Stretching can provide muscle spasm relief. Stretching 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. Consult your exercise physiologist for specific stretches for your affected body part.

  • Heat therapy

Apply a heat pack to the part of your body experiencing muscle 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. 

  • 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, 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 as we are too busy 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. 

See a Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist

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 permanent muscle spasms and provide effective muscle spasm relief. This is done through myofascial massage, dry needling and trigger point release therapy.

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 kristen@urbanhealthhq.com.au 

Published by Urban Health HQ

We are a health and fitness centre offering Occupational Therapy, Exercise Physiology, Personal Training and Group Fitness classes.

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