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Muscle Spasms

Most of us have suffered with a muscle spasm, which is an involuntary contraction of a muscle. They occur suddenly, usually resolve quickly and may be painful during the spasm.

Types of Muscle Spasm

There are three types of muscles in the body and all can suffer with a spasm.

  • Cardiac muscle makes up the heart.
  • Smooth muscle cells lining the blood vessels, gastrointestinal tract, and certain organs. This is often colicky pain which comes and goes and includes the pain associated with menstrual cramps, diarrhoea, gallbladder pain and passing kidney stones.
  • Skeletal muscles attach to the bones and are used for voluntarily movements of the body. As you move these muscles contract and tighten, and when they movement is over, they should relax. Muscle spasms occur when a skeletal muscle contracts and does not relax.

A special form of muscle spasms are the dystonias where an abnormality perhaps exists with the chemicals that help transmit signals within the brain. Examples include torticollis and blepharospasm. Treatment may include medications to help restore the neurotransmitter levels to normal and Botox injections to paralyse the affected muscle and relieve the spasm.

We focus on skeletal muscles.

Want to learn more about Muscle Spasms?
We look in more details below at the symptomscauses and how osteopathy can help.


Often a muscle spasm will occur with no stimulation. There is a sudden onset of muscle pain as it contracts. Most often, the spasm resolves spontaneously after a few seconds though it may last many minutes or longer. Usually, those affected will feel the need to stretch the muscle involved, thus relieving the spasm and resolving the episode. With heat cramps, the muscle spasm may occur minutes or hours after the activity is completed.

Commonly affected areas are calves, hands and feet.


There are a variety of causes of muscle spasms, including dehydration, metabolic disorders, prolonged periods of exercise, and even muscular/neurological disorders. While it is true that muscle spasms are commonly a symptom of various conditions or diseases, they do not always indicate that there is a problem.

It is commonly thought that dehydration and depletion of electrolytes will lead to muscle spasm and cramping. Muscle cells and nerves require enough water, glucose, sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium to allow the proteins within them to develop an organised contraction. Abnormal supply of these elements may stop the muscle recovering and responding normally, resulting in a spasm.

Spasms may occur when a muscle is overused, tired, previously injured, or strained. The spasm may occur if the muscle has been overstretched or if it has been held in the same position for a prolonged period of time. In effect, the muscle cell runs out of energy and fluid and becomes hyperexcitable, resulting in a forceful contraction. This spasm may involve part of a muscle, the whole muscle, or even adjacent muscles.

Overuse as a cause of skeletal muscle spasm is often seen in athletes who are doing strenuous exercise in a hot environment. This is also an occupational issue with construction workers or others working in a hot environment. Usually, the spasms will occur in the large muscles that are strained, being asked to do the work. When this occurs associated with heat exposure, the condition is also known as heat cramps.

Overuse can also occur with routine daily activities like mowing or raking grass, causing muscle spasms of the neck, shoulder, and back.

Unfamiliar exercise activities can also cause muscle spasms to occur. Abdominal spasms can occur when a person decides to begin working their abdominal muscles by doing sit-ups and repeating too many too quickly.

Writer’s cramps of the hand and fingers are similarly caused by prolonged use of the small muscles in the hand and the overused muscles cramp. People will routinely rest and stretch their fingers either to prevent or treat this situation.

How we can help

Most muscle spasms will resolve on their own, but as soon as a muscle cramp comes on, stop doing the activity that precipitated it. Stretching and massaging the area may help relieve muscle spasm as will applying heat

You may be left with muscle pain, bulging or tight muscles that you can’t relax. The spasm may be due to your body not working correctly, so we will check that the body mechanics are correct and that all your muscles are working correctly and sharing the load of the work so they don’t get overused.

With activities, such as sport and gardening, we can check to make sure that your technique is correct and that you are not inadvertently over-using or incorrectly using your body.

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