What is a 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. A spasm can be painful and can last for a few seconds and potentially recur several times before disappearing. You may feel tension, weakness, or sudden onset of cramps. They 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. Muscle spasms can impact your life significantly, doing tasks such as sitting for prolonged periods of time at work or in the car may now be painful, picking up and moving objects can be much harder, or you may be unable to participate in hobbies you enjoy due to pain.
Cause and diagnosis of spasms
Spasm may occur from:
- Working/exercising in a hot environment
- As a protective mechanism
- Poor posture
- Lack of proper stretching/warm up before exercise
- Muscle overuse
- Muscle injury
- Muscle fatigue
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Spinal disc issues
- Nerve problems
- Neurological disorders
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.
Spasm pain generally self resolves within a week. If the pain persists for longer, 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 by muscle palpation.
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. 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. Alongside these injuries, as we age, our soft tissues begin to deteriorate and may cause more spasm. This reduction in our soft tissue function often leads to disability and other negative consequences to our health and quality of life – if our body doesn’t allow us the function to do the things we love, this will then reduce our mental wellbeing. Therefore, it is important to look after our soft tissues and to maintain optimal strength throughout our lifespan.
Natural muscle spasm relief treatments
If your muscle spasms occur frequently, it can be understandable that one would want to avoid overuse of medications for pain relief or avoid costly treatments that may involve surgery. Here is a list of natural muscle spasm relief treatments you can try at home, or under the guidance of a health professional.
Soft Tissue Occupational Therapy
Soft Tissue Occupational Therapy can help relax and calm the tightness in your muscles, easing your spasms. Trigger points are palpable knots within your muscles, which cause muscle spasm pain. These trigger points can prevent full range of motion in your body and can cause referred pain elsewhere within your body. A great example of referred pain are headaches, which are usually caused by trigger points located within the muscles of the neck.
A soft tissue occupational therapist is well trained in therapies such as trigger point therapy or myofascial release therapy to help to release trigger points causing muscle spasms. Combined with their knowledge of human anatomy and functioning of the body, they can identify and release all the trigger points within the area without the use of pharmaceuticals or surgery. This will provide natural muscle spasm relief and return normal functioning of the muscle and body.
Never push through the pain as it may aggravate your muscles even further and potentially cause more damage. Stop doing activities that cause your pain and avoid situations that aggravate your back pain, such as prolonged sitting by taking frequent breaks to change your posture. However, too much rest can be detrimental to your health as it can cause muscle deconditioning and weakening. Talk to an exercise physiologist as to get advice regarding what movements will be safe and avoid further muscle spasms.
Be sure to continue some form of gentle exercise, such as walking or swimming, as prolonged periods of rest can make the pain worse. Prolonged inactivity can cause the muscles to stiffen due to a lack of blood flow, causing more harm. Get in touch with your soft tissue occupational therapist or exercise physiologist to get more information regarding when you can return to being active again.
When you are sleeping or resting in bed, you can use pillows or towels reduce pain and help with postural alignment. Sustained awkward postures during your sleep may be contributing to your pain.
- If you sleep or rest on your back, place a pillow below your knees, and a folded towel (that is a lower height than your pillow) in the small of your back. This will align your posture as it will distribute your weight more evenly.
- If you rest or sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees. The pillow will help keep your hips, knees and spine in alignment.
- If you rest or sleep on your belly, place a pillow underneath your abdomen/hips. This will help relieve the pressure off your lower back, especially if that’s where your spasms are located.
Apply a heat pack to wherever your muscle spasms are occurring. You can also take a hot shower, allowing the water to hit the affected body part, or take a warm bath. The heat allows your muscles to relax and increases blood circulation in the area to allow for healing. 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
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 in the short term.
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 for every muscle of the body. Consult with an exercise physiologist, who can provide appropriate and accurate stretches specific to your muscle spasms.
Stress takes a toll on our bodies, physically and mentally. When we are stressed, we unconsciously tense our muscles. This can aggravate episodes of muscle spasm. When we are in a negative mood due to stress or other mental burdens, our perception of pain is heightened, and we are more likely to feel the effects of pain more. Be sure to take time every day to participate in mindfulness or an enjoyable hobby to help relieve stress. Using apps such as ‘Smiling Mind’ or ‘Stop, breath and think’ makes mindfulness accessible through daily 10-minute mindfulness exercises. Stress relief may also involve a relaxing warm bath, participating in your hobbies, listening to calming music, or other activities such as taking a walk. While these activities may not solve the cause of your stress, it takes your focus away from the problem, even for only a short time period. If you are dealing with persistent and chronic stress, you may want to get in touch with a psychologist or counsellor.
See an exercise physiologist
Exercise physiologists use exercise as therapy, in other words, prescribe exercise as ‘medicine’ for natural muscle spasm relief. They will assist with preventing injury, managing injury, and improving physical functioning. They will be able to provide appropriate stretches and inform you what exercises and movements you should avoid whilst you are recovering.
Once your muscle spasms have subsided, there are some things you can do to help prevent muscle spasms in the future.
- Regular exercise. This is to keep the muscles strong and flexible by ensuring they get regular blood flow and to also prevent weakening from inactivity. Be sure to warm up before exercise to ensure proper muscle recruitment. Ensuring proper muscle recruitment during exercise means getting the correct muscles to activate during certain movements. This will reduce the risk of future injury.
- Ergonomics. Ensure your car seat, desk and other chairs are at a good height and distance as to prevent poor postures for sustained periods of time.
- Take frequent breaks from activities that cause sustained postures. If you are sitting for long periods of time at work or home be sure to take a break every hour or half hour to get up, walk around and stretch. This is to relieve muscle tension and prevent sustained postures.
- Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, especially in a hot environment.
- Warm up before and after exercise.
- Warm up before and after manual labour.
- Stretch during breaks.
At Urban Health HQ our highly trained Soft Tissue Occupational Therapists and Exercise Physiologist 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