Treating Muscle Spasms and Cramps

Defining the Problem of Muscle Spasms and Cramps

Whenever a muscle or even small fibres of the muscle contract without you consciously making it happen, it is known as a muscle spasm. When the muscle or fibres that have contracted sustain this contraction, the spasm becomes a fully-fledged cramp. Muscle spasms and cramps vary in intensity from person to person and from situation to situation.

Therefore, while you may get a minor twitch another person may be suffering from a muscle spasm that is so intense that it leaves a bruise.

Muscle spasms and cramps can affect any muscle in the body, including voluntary and involuntary muscles. This means that apart from skeletal muscles i.e. voluntary muscles, other involuntary muscles such as blood vessels, bowels, uterus, urinary tract and bronchial tree can also be affected.

Even though any muscle in the body can suffer muscle spasms and cramps, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons there are three that are said to be most susceptible to this problem. These are the calf muscles (gastrocnemius), back of thigh (hamstrings) and the front of the thighs (quadriceps).

Causes of Muscle Cramps

There are many causes for muscle spasms and cramps even though none have been scientifically proven. There are two main reasons for muscle spasms and cramps. The first is muscle fatigue and overstretching which in layman's terms would be making a muscle do more than what it has been conditioned for.

The other reason is electrolyte depletion resulting from dehydration. Sweating heavily drains crucial bodily fluid and electrolytic nutrients such as sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium etc. that can translate into muscle spasms and cramps.

Research on Causes Behind Muscle Cramps

Research conducted into the causes of muscle spasms and cramps have revealed muscle fatigue as more potent than electrolyte depletion. Martin Shwellnus from the University of Cape Town conducted a review of all the medical literature on muscle spasms and cramping. In his review, he discovered that altered neuromuscular control, which can loosely be called muscle fatigue is the prime pathophysiological source of muscle cramping. In contrast, his research led him to believe that the electrolyte depletion theory is only based on anecdotal evidence and extrapolation.

Dealing with Muscle Spasms and Cramps

Muscle spasms and cramps are usually not serious enough to warrant medication and often get resolved by themselves. However, if the cramp and spasms become unbearable then the following steps should be followed:

  • Stop the activity that triggered the spasms or cramping.
  • Gently stretch the muscle that is cramping and keep it stretched until the cramps have ceased
  • Apply heat and gently massage tightened muscles. Alternatively, once the muscles have loosened up, applying a cold compress can relieve the soreness
  • Consult your condition with a trained and professional therapist

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