Muscles are structures that are found in the body that are responsible for body movements. There are majorly three different kinds of muscles that can be found in the body. They include cardiac muscle, smooth muscle, and skeletal muscle.
The cardiac muscles are muscles that are found within the heart. They are responsible for the beating of the heart. They help the heart to pump blood out into the other parts of the body.
The smooth muscles are the muscles found lining the visceral parts of the body. They are located around the hollow organs such as the esophagus, the stomach, and so on.
On the other hand, skeletal muscles are those muscles that are seen to have strongly adhered to the bones. They can be anchored to the bone either directly or via the aid of a tendon.
On these three muscles, there is a tendency for a muscle spasm to occur. A muscle spasm is also known as a muscle cramp, and it occurs when there is an involuntary contraction of the muscle cells that are present within the muscle.
Muscle spasms can be very painful, occur quickly, and suddenly as well as it can resolve itself just as fast. Sometimes, muscle spasms can be confused as a muscle twitch; however, they are not the same thing.
A muscle twitch occurs when there is an uncontrolled fine movement of a small part of a large muscle.
A muscle twitch is often visible under the skin, and this means that a muscle twitch usually affects the skeletal muscles much more than the cardiac muscles or smooth muscles. However, in the case of a muscle spasm, it can affect either the skeletal, smooth, or cardiac muscles.
Causes of muscle spasms
There are many causes of muscle spasms, and they include
1. Low electrolyte level
Your body contains many electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, chloride, and so on. These electrolytes are essential for your body, and your body depends on them for proper functioning.
If there is any problem in the normal levels of these electrolytes, it will cause malfunctioning in parts of your body system, including the muscles.
Your muscles majorly depend on these electrolytes for balance. Hence, once you are running low on any of these electrolytes, and there is no immediate replacement, your body reacts by sending signals to the muscle system causing spasms to occur.
There are certain conditions that can lead to low electrolyte levels. Such conditions include excessive sweating, strenuous exercises, some medications, as well as diarrhea and vomiting.
Hence, it is always advisable to ensure that medications such as ORS (Oral rehydration solutions) are appropriately given in a case of low electrolytes that is caused by vomiting and diarrhea.
2. Lack of adequate intake of water
Water is an essential component of human life. The body can’t survive without the consumption of water after a certain period. Every organ in your body needs water to function, and that also includes your muscles.
The kidneys are responsible for the excretion of excess water as well as excess electrolytes and other substances that are not needed by the body. In the body, once there is an imbalance in the water levels, there will be a malfunctioning of the muscles, one of which is a muscle spasm.
Once you don’t get enough water into your system, your muscles will begin to protest and as such, lead to muscle spasms. Also, when you lose water uncontrollably via physiological processes such as excess sweating, or through pathological conditions such as diarrhea, vomiting, or excess ruminations, you are likely to get muscle spasms.
Stress and overworking of the muscles can cause a lot of things within the body system, and muscle spasms aren’t left out. Stress causes headaches, muscle tension, muscle spasms, fatigue, joint pains, muscle pains, and so on.
Hence, when you are overworked, there is a tendency for your muscles to have a mind of their own and begin to contract involuntarily, causing muscle spasms.
4. Excess intake of caffeine
There are certain drugs and stimulants that can cause muscle twitches and spasms. One of such stimulants includes caffeine.
Although caffeine is one stimulant that can get you up in the morning and prepare you for the day, however, as the saying goes, “too much of everything is bad.”
Caffeine, when taken in excess, can cause an imbalance in the level of the electrolytes and, as such, can lead to muscle spasms. Other stimulants, such as amphetamines, also cause this.
5. You are out of shape
Once it has been a long time since you have engaged in exercises and you intend to start on a vigorous note, you are merely pushing your muscles into overdrive, and this will cause muscle spasms to occur.
Hence, if it has been a long time since you did any form of exercise, you can decide to start up slow and build your muscles back gradually. That way, you don’t over stress them or put them into overdrive, hence causing muscle cramping.
6. Over-exhaustion and lack of sleep
Sleep is an exercise that is essential to life. This is the time your body goes to a state of hibernation and rejuvenation. Once you refuse to sleep or you overwork yourself and refuse to rest, your body will begin to protest, and one of the significant ways is by muscle spasms.
When you refuse to rest, your muscles will begin to feel all sore and painful. After a while, if you still refuse to give it rest, then it will lead to involuntary contractions, which can be painful.
There are some medications that come with side effects that can lead to muscle spasms. Diuretics, which are drugs that increase the frequency of urination, can cause involuntary contractions to occur.
If you are a patient who suffers from high blood pressure or any related heart disease, your doctor will prescribe diuretics, which is also known as water pills to you. The effect of these pills is to increase the rate at which you pass out pee and as such, reduce your blood pressure.
However, the side effect of those pills is that as you urinate, you are not only passing out water, you are also passing out electrolytes. As was earlier stated, the muscles need these electrolytes to function.
As such, when there is a reduction in the level of these electrolytes, especially potassium, the muscles may begin to experience muscle contractions involuntarily.
Other medications, such as antidepressants, have been known to cause mild muscle spasms as well as muscle twitches.
8. Kidney diseases
One of the many symptoms of kidney diseases is a muscle spasm. Sometimes the kidneys don’t give any sign that they are about to shut down or that there is anything wrong with them. This means that your kidneys may be in garage danger, but you may not know.
Once the kidney loses its ability to work, there will be a lot of problems caused within the body, and one of such is muscle spasms. Once the kidneys fail in their ability to function correctly, there will be a build-up of electrolytes and other harmful waste products.
Indeed, your muscles depend on these electrolytes to function, but as they say, “too much of anything is bad”; once the body is overloaded with electrolytes, it will cause misfiring and as such, lead to muscle cramps.
9. Lou Gehrig’s disease
This condition is also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis(ALS). This condition occurs when the nerves that are meant to send messages from the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) stops functioning.
Before they stop working totally, the nerves tend to send irregular signals, which will cause involuntary contractions of the muscle, causing muscle spasms.
Muscle spasms are one of the early signs and symptoms of ALS.
10. Pinched spinal nerves
Nerves can be likened to connecting wires that pass information from one part of the body to another. Generally, there are two basic types of nerves, and they are the motor nerves and sensory nerves.
The motor nerves carry information from the brain and the spinal cord to the other parts of the body while the sensory nerves carry impulses from the body back to the brain and spinal cord.
If, for any reason, any of these nerves, especially those coming from the spinal cord (also known as the spinal nerves), become crushed or pinched, they can lead to involuntarily messages sent out from the nerves and as such allow muscle spasms to occur.
Neuropathy occurs when nerves become damaged. When nerves become damaged, it tends to change the way the nerves communicate with either the brain or the spinal cord. It also affects the way the nerves communicate with one another.
Once this occurs, it causes a miscommunication or an overload of signals, which in turn will lead to multiple muscle contractions and twitches. Usually, it starts with a muscle twitch, and this is a common symptom of neuropathy.
In other words, muscle twitches are a sign that neuropathy may be affecting the nerves that are responsible for controlling and directing how your muscle functions.
While it can be a genetic condition (meaning some people can be born with it), likewise it can also occur as a result of other causes such as accidents, injuries, alcoholism, infections, side effects of certain medications as well as other underlying diseases.
Research has shown that diabetes is the leading cause of neuropathy.
12. Isaacs’ Syndrome
This is a syndrome that occurs when your muscles keep moving even though your brain and spinal cord aren’t sending out any instructions(signals) for movement.
Generally, the brain and spinal cord are the ones responsible for the coordination of the body, and they do this via signal transmissions through nerves.
Hence, when the nerves continue to send signals even though the brain or spinal cord didn’t ask them to, the muscles will continue to twitch and contract, and as such, this will result in muscle spasms, muscle cramps and eventually muscle stiffness.
This condition, known as neuromyotonia or Isaac-Mertens Syndrome, causes ripple-like sensations under the skin, and this continues even though you are asleep or under general anesthesia.
Symptoms of Muscle spasms
The kind of symptoms a patient would get for muscle spasms largely depends on which muscle is involved.
This means that the symptoms that are experienced when having contractions in the skeletal muscle may be different from that which is gotten when a patient has spasms in his smooth muscles.
Generally, spasms occur in the skeletal muscles when the muscles have been strains or used excessively. Spasms in the skeletal muscle come with signs such as intense pain when the muscle contracts, and the presence of a bulging or tight muscle can be felt or seen visibly under the skin.
If these contractions are left untreated, it can eventually cause muscle weakness, muscle wasting with the evident loss of Muscle size as well as erratic changes in sensations.
On the other hand, for smooth muscles, there will be a kind of sharp pain that often starts and stops, and the symptoms will depend on which internal organ is involved. Sometimes, this pain will come with nausea and the tendency to vomit.
Muscle spasms are excruciating, and the ones that are not severe do not last up to minutes before relief comes. If you have cramps that last nor than 15 minutes, then you should see a doctor.
However, for those that are not severe, there are specific home treatments that can be used to relieve them and they include
Research has shown that stretching a particular area that has muscle spasm can help relieve the pain and allow the contractions to stop.
This works especially for skeletal muscles that are present in the neck, calf, back, and thigh region.
Massages have been seen to be a great way to relieve muscle tension as well as increase blood flow within a region.
Massages will help to not only reduce the pain but stretch the muscles and allow effective communication of nerves. Little wonder why having a massage is considered soothing.
3. Application of heat or ice
The use of either heat or ice during cramps has been proven to be very useful. You may apply an ice pack on the cramped area for about 15 minutes at a time a few times a day while you can apply the heat pad for the same duration of time. However, after applying the heat pad, you should immediately use an ice pack.
This is because the heat pad may cause inflammation to occur while the application of the ice pack will immediately cause the swelling to reduce.
4. Drinking of water
As funny as this might sound when having cramps, you are encouraged to stay hydrated. Also, to prevent muscle spasms from occurring, you are encouraged to drink lots of water.
However, it is essential to note that the water content needed varies between different people.
5. Mild exercise
Although it sounds crazy to think that when having muscle spasms, one should exercise. However, research has shown that this is an excellent way to relieve the pains and cramps in that muscle.
However, the exercises to be carried out should not be the vigorous type else you may worsen the cause and cause a tear in your muscle.