Though it is possible for a muscle spasm to be triggered by a massage therapist that doesn’t know what they are doing, for the most part, muscle spasms are not caused by massage. However, there are many other things that cause muscle spasms, which we will discuss in this article.
What is a Muscle Spasm?
First of all, before we can consider the causes of muscle spasms, we must talk about what a muscle spasm is. A muscle spasm can affect any part of the body, and occurs when the muscle tissue contracts involuntarily.
Depending on the size and location of the muscle, it could be barely noticeable or could be very sharp and painful. A muscle cramp is a form of muscle spasm. A cramp is very brief and relaxes rather quickly.
However, the words are very often used to refer to the same occurrence. There are lots of different types of muscle spasms and lots of different underlying causes, so it can be quite difficult to diagnose repeated episodes.
You may be able to effectively treat your muscle spasms by making some dietary changes, using medical intervention or physical therapy, or even a combination of the three.
Muscles and How They Work
When they are working correctly, muscles will contract and then relax according to the signals that are sent to them through the nerves by the brain. This is true, whether it is a voluntary muscle- those you use in movement- or an involuntary muscle- those that work automatically, such as your heart or stomach. The electrical signals of the nerve trip the delicate chemical balance of the muscle and cause it to flex or extend.
Why Do Spasms Happen?
Basically, muscle spasms fall into one of two different categories. First of all, there may not be the proper amounts of specific chemicals needed to make a muscle properly function. These chemicals are called electrolytes- and when there is not enough, the nerve signals are unable to travel correctly.
On the other hand, the nerve controlling the muscle could be at fault- whether there is a problem with the brain itself or a problem with the nerve. In either case, the common denominator is that the muscle is contracting inappropriately and outside of the person’s control.
When there is a brief or isolated episode of muscle spasm occurring, it is typically the result of the muscle being strained or even injured. For example, at the end of a marathon, a runner is likely to experience muscle spasms because their body has been depleted of electrolytes and water.
The main electrolytes in the body are calcium, magnesium, and potassium. When the body is low, a spasm is triggered. Another possible cause of muscle spasms is excess exercise- especially if you have muscles that are poorly conditioned.
Finally, a reaction to specific chemicals such as poisons like strychnine, can result in the muscles convulsing or seizing uncontrollably. Also, a very similar effect can be triggered by the toxins in the venom of poisonous animals because the venom disrupts the functioning of the nerves. When you have nerve damage due to an injury or a chronic condition such as multiple sclerosis, the brain or spinal cord can signal the muscles to spasm.
Common Types of Muscle Spasms
One of the most common types of muscle spasms is referred to as a charley horse. There are several different versions and causes of this painful calf muscle contraction. However, in most cases, it is the result of some trauma or even from becoming dehydrated during exercise.
This is a crippling spasm that can last as few as a few seconds or as long as several minutes. You can relieve a charley horse by taking a few minutes to breathe, relax, and massage the muscle. If you try to fight the pain, you’re likely to experience other muscle spasms, such as the stomach, which will not only prolong, but intensify the episode.
Stomach cramps are also a very common type of muscle spasm. These can be a result of a temporary illness such as stomach flu or other infection, or even more serious condition such as IBS. Stomach cramps are typically quite painful and you may also experience nausea and vomiting.
Typically, a stomach flu will pass in a few days- however, in some cases, an individual will become dehydrated and will need to seek medical attention. It is possible to control the signs and symptoms of IBS by controlling diet and taking prescribed medications. Infants with colic also have stomach spasms, but this is typically due to their young brain’s response to regular digestion- and this will typically improve with age.
Angina is another very common muscle spasm that involves the heart muscle. This occurs when the heart isn’t getting enough blood flow. This is most often associated with atherosclerosis, commonly referred to as a “hardening of the arteries.”
This is typically a very painful tightening of the chest and sometimes extends to the shoulders, jaw, and neck. In most cases, medication can be used to control it, but if you experience a sudden pain that gets worse, and if the cramp lasts for ten minutes or more, you may be having a heart attack.
Preventing Muscle Spasms
The very first thing you can do to prevent muscle spasms is to make sure you always stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water and other healthy drinks throughout the day or when you’re working will help to make it much less likely that you’ll experience a cramp. Additionally, good nutrition is vital.
Studies have proven that low levels of sodium, potassium, and calcium make it much more likely that you’ll experience cramping. Many times, athletes will take mineral supplements and will eat bananas about an hour before they work out. One final consideration is making sure that you condition your muscles regularly by exercising and stretching.
This is especially true if you have injured muscles, as they can spasm repeatedly due to signals from the brain. When you have an injury, as the muscle begins to heal with gentle therapy, the spams will become much less frequent and much less sudden.
Treatment of Muscle Spasms
If the above preventative measures don’t work for you and if you are having frequent muscle spasms, you should consult your physician immediately. A medical professional will be able to examine you and find out if you have been exposed to toxins or perhaps you have a neurological disorder. Medications such a pain relievers and muscle relaxers may be prescribed to control spasms.