Muscles and muscle spasms
A muscle spasm is a sudden contraction of the muscle that is normally involuntary. They are normally painful and come and go quickly. They are different from twitches, which normally involve the movement of a section of the muscle.
The movement is uncontrolled and normally can be seen under the skin. To understand muscle spasms, twitches and cramps, it is imperative to understand the nature of the muscles. Muscles help in movement and connect bones to one another. There are three basic types of these complex muscle structures. Types of muscle are heart or cardiac muscle, skeletal and smooth muscle.
Skeletal muscles are muscles that are connected to the bone. Te connections to the bone are either direct or through tendons. Their contraction controls the bone or the skeleton, and helps the attached part of the body move. The movement of the arms and legs in lifting or running, or when someone smiles are all as a result of these muscles. Most of the movement from the influence of thee muscles is controlled by the brain consciously.
Smooth muscles are those muscle structures found on the walls of hollow structures like the intestines, arteries or the bladder. They are normally circular, and when they contract, help in the movement through the hollow structures. Heart muscles are those found in the heart and help in the pumping of blood to other part of the body.
Causes of Muscle spasms
Muscle spasms occur as a result of many factors. The cause of a muscle spasm depends on the environment, the part of the body involved and the underlying factors. The most common cause of muscle spasm is when the muscle is tired or overused.
This is normally in cases where the muscle has been held in the same period for long or when it has been stretched beyond limit. When the muscle has been in the same position for long, it runs out of the energy it needs to function well. Spasms that occur due to overuse are normally common in athletes who do strenuous exercises especially in hot environments.
Other activities that might result in straining or overuse include daily activities like shoveling or doing too many sit ups which result in abdominal spasms. Writer’s cramps normally occur when a writer overuses he muscles in his hands.
Another common cause of spasms is dehydration. Dehydration causes the depletion of electrolytes which then results in cramps. Muscles require adequate supply of the nutrients they require such as sodium, glucose, potassium, magnesium and calcium. These help in the organization of the proteins within them to interact and contract. Without these nutrients, the contraction does not happen properly so the muscle becomes irritable leading to spasms.
Another common cause of spasms is atherosclerosis. This narrowing of arteries leads to spasms because it results in inadequate supply of the nutrients mentioned above. Diseases may also cause spasms, especially those that are associated with the nervous system. Smooth muscles also experience spasms. The most common examples are the spasms that sometimes happen within the intestinal muscle leading to sharp pain. These waves of pain are called colic.
Signs and symptoms of muscle spasms
The symptoms also vary depending on the environment and the muscle involved in the spasm. The circumstances within which the spasm occurs also affect the signs that one sees. Spasms that involve the skeletal muscle normally involve the overuse of muscle. When one asks muscles to do more than they can handle or are required to do, spasms will most likely occur. The environment of the job can also affect the onset of muscle spasm dealing with skeletal muscle. With skeletal muscle, the pain is acute as the muscle contracts suddenly.
In some cases, signs similar to twitching can be seen, with bulging muscle under the skin where the muscle involved is. Sometimes the muscle spasm can be random and spontaneous, and last a few seconds, but in other instances it can go on for several minutes. The person in most instances will feel the need to stretch the muscle involved and relieve the symptoms. In cases involving heat, the cramps may occur long after the strenuous activity is done.
Another sign is a twitch or fasciculation of the muscle involved. This is an involuntary repetitive contraction of the muscle, or of few fibers of a larger muscle. The most common muscles that experience twitching are muscles in the eyelid, the thigh or thumb. But muscle twitching signs are not always the result of muscle cramps. They might be the result of neurological disorders like myopathy, or muscular dystrophy.
In most cases, the people that experience muscle spasms are able to take care of their spasms and self-diagnose. Things like stretching the muscle often help alleviate the symptoms. However, these are only in cases where the spasms are short lived. In some cases, the spasms are more severe and require visits to the hospital. Like in most physical problems, the doctor will have to perform a physical exam.
Doctors will often ask when the spasms began, how often they occur and the severity of the symptoms. The doctor will ask about the underlying situation, the muscle involved and whether the spasms are spontaneous or follow some rhythm.
Information regarding recent or past illnesses, medication taken and the history of the exercise or the work the patient does may be helpful. In more severe and prolonged cases, there might be risks of muscle damage of breakdown. In such cases, a CPK blood test might be necessary to know what exactly the problem is. If the spasms occur due to nerve disorders, EMG tests are necessary.
For muscle cramps, the causes are most of the time known and can be prevented. To prevent muscles, it is important to hydrate properly and ensure the constant supply of nutrients. One should avoid strenuous activity especially in extreme environmental conditions.
Treatment after the spasms occur largely depends on the muscle involved the underlying condition. There is no single treatment, but some of the most common ones are muscle relaxants and anti-parkinsonism drugs.