Understanding Muscle Spasms and How to Treat Them
Have you ever experienced twitching muscles or muscle contractions that occur out of the blue? Keep calm, they’re not really bugs crawling beneath your skin, but muscle spasms. Are you ready for the big reveal, guys?
A Beginner’s Peek into Muscle Spasms
The easiest way to explain muscle spasms would be to describe them as an involuntary contracting or twitching of one or more muscles, which can cause severe pain. The most widely known causes of muscle spasms include overexertion, pain, as well as muscle fatigue. For instance, lifting heavy weights regularly during gym sessions, or making sudden and repetitive turns when playing contact sports can result in lower back spasms, that are caused by muscular stress. But the rut doesn’t just stop there. Spasms could actually point towards serious systemic or neurological diseases. Eek!
It is therefore, extremely vital for us to recognise the timing, frequency, duration, pattern and overall environment in which spasms occur. At the same time, it is also important to know that muscle spasms can involve either the skeletal or smooth muscles in your body. In words made famous by Notorious B.I.G, “…and if you don’t know, now you know.”
The Difference between Skeletal and Smooth Muscles
The primary differentiators between skeletal and smooth muscles are embryological origins, functions, innervations and physiologies. Did we lose you already? Don’t you worry, we’ve got you covered! Skeletal muscles refer to the muscles that are anchored to a bone, either directly or via a tendon. When a skeletal muscle contracts, the associated body part moves, which in turn voluntarily allows an individual to lift weights, run, jump and even smile. Pretty cool, right?
Contrastingly, smooth muscles are located within the hollow internal structures in the body, which include the arteries, bladder and iris of the eye. Their movements are involuntary and controlled by the unconscious part of our brain function through the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system plays an active role in regulating processes within the body, which in turn enables your body to respond to stress. Here’s a quick example. In the face of potential danger, our hearts tend to beat faster, palms get sweaty, and bowels move, as a result of the sympathetic nervous system being activated. Put on your wet suit, we’re about to dive in a little further!
So, What Causes Muscle Spasms?
One factor which can contribute to the occurrence of skeletal muscle spasms is injury or overuse. For example, if an athlete has not warmed up or stretched properly before performing any form of vigorous physical activity, such as playing sport, sprinting or jumping. Skeletal muscle spasms can also occur as a result of not maintaining proper balance between fluid and electrolyte intake, or if your body is depleted of its nutrient requirements. This is pretty common during endurance training, which involves the use of muscles with increased metabolic demand.
Comparatively, muscle spasms can also affect smooth muscles in a multitude of ways. Smooth muscles in the intestinal wall can go into spasms, causing a painful sensation called colic. This colicky pain, which is usually intermittent, can also happen within the bile duct that empties the gallbladder. This can take place after eating. Similarly, diarrhea, which is also associated with colicky pain, can cause the muscles within the intestinal wall to spasm just before a watery bowel movement. Kidney stones that try to pass within the smooth muscles of the ureter walls also can cause rhythmic spasms that are extremely painful, and are usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting. There’s more, y’all.
So, What Causes Muscle Spasms?
And if you thought the brunt of muscle spasms ends there, you’ve got it all wrong. In fact, spasms can actually point towards something far more dangerous, such as a neurological disease. For example, severe muscle spasms can occur as a result of irritation or damage caused to a nerve connected to a muscle, such as spinal stenosis or major disc herniations. Spinal stenosis or disc herniations disrupt nerve root signals from the spinal cord.
If we’re talking about the brain, there are several regions responsible for the movement of skeletal muscle. This means that problems in one or several brain regions can result in abnormal muscular spasms, such as dystonias (repetitive contractions that cause jerking over a prolonged period), blepharisma (involuntary blinking) and myoclonus (sudden, irregular involuntary contractions). Read on, there is light at the end of it all.
So, How do We Manage Muscle Spasms?
One contributing factor to muscle spasms involving skeletal muscles is injury or overuse. For instance, when an athlete does not warm up or stretch properly before performing any sort of vigorous physical activity, such as playing a sport, sprinting or jumping. Skeletal muscle spasms can also occur if no proper balance between fluid and electrolyte intake is maintained, or if your body has been depleted of its nutrient requirements. This a common occurrence, especially during endurance training, which requires an increased metabolic demand from muscles. Jeez, and you thought the body was just plain ol’ clay!
On the other hand, there are a variety of ways in which muscle spasms could involve smooth muscles. One example would be smooth muscles of the intestinal wall going into spasms, causing a painful sensation called colic. This colicky pain is mostly intermittent, and can also happen within the bile duct that empties the gallbladder. This usually takes place after eating. Under similar circumstances, diarrhea is also associated with colicky pain, and can cause the muscles within the intestinal wall to spasm just mere moments before a watery bowel movement. Kidney stones which attempt to pass within the ureter wall’s smooth muscles can lead to rhythmic spasms that are painful in nature, and usually followed by nausea and vomiting. But wait, there’s more.
Muscle Spasms as an Indicator of Something Worse?
Yes, that’s right, the brunt of muscle spasms doesn’t just end there. In fact, spasms can usually indicate something more dangerous, such as a neurological disease. For instance, chronic muscle spasms can be caused by irritation or damage of a nerve connected to a muscle, such as spinal stenosis or major disc herniations. These conditions tend to distort nerve root signals from the spinal cord.
Speaking of, there are actually a few regions in the brain which are responsible for the movement of skeletal muscles. Therefore, a problem in one or more regions of the brain can lead to abnormal muscular spasms, such as dystonias (repetitive contractions that cause jerking over a prolonged period), blepharisma (involuntary blinking) and myoclonus (sudden, irregular involuntary contractions). Keep on reading, the light at the end of it all is near.
So, How do We Manage Muscle Spasms?
One of the best ways to treat skeletal muscle spasms is through regular aerobic exercise, which involves an ideal balance of muscle stretching and conditioning, as well as a correction of poor postural habits and biomechanics. Alternatively, treatment of smooth muscle spasms or more complex conditions should be recommended by a neurologist or movement disorder specialist, and usually includes specific medications and therapy. Some examples of this would be mood regulation and psychological therapy, such as mind-body strategies and stress reduction techniques. You’re welcome.
You should seek consultation with a doctor immediately if you experience muscle spasms that occur more than once in a day. Do not ever attempt to treat spasms on your own, as they could be an indication of something dangerous, which, if left untended or treated wrongly, could result in severe permanent damage to your body. Step up, guys, and let’s work towards a healthier of you!