Muscle spasms can be painful and debilitating. Medication is not the only answer.
Causes of Muscle Spasms
Muscle cramps occur when a muscle in the body suddenly becomes tight and painful. If they are in the calf muscles, the cramp is called a “charley horse”. Involuntary muscle contractions are called spasms, and these cause the cramps. The muscles most often affected by spasms are the leg muscles, arm muscles, abdomen, and rib cage areas. Cramps can by caused by poor circulation, overexertion, lack of stretching, fatigue, exercising during hot weather, dehydration, a deficiency in nutrients (calcium, magnesium, potassium), or “malfunctioning nerves”. Pinched nerves or a spinal cord injury could bring on cramps. Some medications can also cause this problem, such as diuretics, Aricept (for Alzheimer’s), Procardia (for angina), Evista (for osteoporosis), asthma medicaition, and statins, to name a few.1 Skeletal muscle spasms are common and are most likely caused by electrolyte issues and dehydration. These are general short-lived. Smooth muscles in the organs can have extremely painful and “colicky” (off and on pain) spasms, such as in the cases of gallbladder pain, diarrhea, menstrual cramps, or a kidney stone.2 Symptoms of cramps and spasms include sharp and sudden pain, and perhaps even the emergence of a “hard lump of muscle tissue”. While the problem may disappear on its own, it is important to seek professional health care if the discomfort is severe, if it is accompanied by skin changes or leg swelling, if there is muscle weakness, if there is no obvious cause, if self-care does not resolve the situation, or if cramps occur frequently.3
Doctors may prescribe muscle relaxants to patients. They act as sedatives for the entire body. Soma, Flexeril, and Valium are common medication names. The problems with these drugs are that they may be habit-forming, and they could be very harmful if combined with alcohol or other sedatives. They may impair physical and mental functioning, and they could worsen depression.4 There are some natural muscle relaxant alternatives to narcotics and the side effects of prescriptions. Herbs may be used in tea, oil, or capsule form. The might be useful in soaks, rubs, poultices, and salves. Some of these alternatives include valerian, licorice, chamomile, white willow, horsetail, cramp bark, and cayenne pepper. Homeopathic remedies, such as arnica, may also provide relief. Proper nutrition is necessary to prevent and relieve inflammation. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, silica, and vitamin C might all be helpful supplements. Of course, since cramps could be related to dehydration, drinking water (and flushing toxins from the body) is crucial.5
Chiropractic care and the Active Release Technique (ART) may benefit patients with spasms. The ART practitioner will manually assess the texture and muscle movements and then apply direct and precise tension to the abnormal tissues as the patient follows prescribed movements.6 Massage therapy is another option for spasms. Massage therapists can help improve blood flow. Some therapists are trained in sports massage, hot stone treatments, or trigger point therapy.7
Learn more about muscle spasms.