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What Causes Muscle Spasms

muscle spasms

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Physical exertion, environmental changes, medications, and certain health conditions can cause muscle spasms.

Muscle spasms, otherwise known as muscle cramps, are a sudden and involuntary contraction of one or more muscles. A sudden charley horse can result in sleep disruption and the inability to complete or deliver a task due to mild to severe pain.

Though the condition is generally harmless, muscle spasms can make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle.

Spasms can affect many different areas in the body, leading to many various symptoms. The most common sites for muscle spasms are the legs, lower back, shoulder, and neck area.

Muscle Spasms in Leg

Spasms in the legs are common where the calf muscles, including feet and thighs, suddenly become tight and painful.

Common causes of leg spasms include physical exertion, pregnancy, liver disease, or taking certain medications (cholesterol-lowering drugs). It also occurs for no apparent reason or is known as idiopathic leg cramps.

Pain and tenderness in the leg will last for several hours, causing sleep loss or disturbance.

Muscle Spasms in Lower Back

Lower back spasms refer to the involuntary muscle contraction or tensing within that body area. The condition ranges from minor discomfort and stiffness and can develop into more intense.

Severe symptoms of lower back spasms may include high-level pain and muscle tightening that limits normal back movements.

Injuries to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the back are the common cause of spasms. Sudden turns, repetitive movements, and excessive strain on the back muscles can cause an injury.

Muscle Spasms in Shoulder and Neck

A muscle spasm occurring in shoulder and neck muscles can cause pain and reduce the range of movements.

Muscle fatigue, overuse or overtraining, dehydration, and nerve damage are common causes of this condition.

Stiff, tight muscles in the shoulders and neck area are also common after spending an extended time sitting in one position.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms may range in intensity from mild, uncomfortable twitches to intense and severe pain.

Other symptoms that occur with muscle spasticity may include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Skin numbness
  • Pin and needles sensation
  • Involuntary jerky movements
  • Poor coordination
  • Exaggeration of reflexes
  • Unusual posture
  • Back pain
  • Difficulty moving

The spastic muscle may feel harder than usual and may appear visually distorted. Uncontrollable twitches are one of the main signs of muscle spasms.

Spasms usually last from seconds to a couple of minutes and may occur multiple times before stopping.

Other risk factors that put people at greater risk for muscle spasms include old age, dehydration, being ill or overweight, pregnancy, and muscle depletion.


Muscle spasms are involuntary, unpredictable, and typically go away on their own.

It might take a couple of minutes (or longer) for the symptoms to stop, but they do not often require further medical treatment. Drinking plenty of liquid can help ease dehydration-related spasms.

Try the following methods to help ease symptoms.

Warm-Up and Stretch

Doing warm-ups and stretching exercises help increase flexibility and blood flow to different body areas.

Good warm-up activities to try including slow running in place or brisk walking for a couple of minutes. Doing so helps limit the chance of muscle pull, spasms, and joint pain.

Massage the Muscle

Consider getting a massage after stretches to relieve muscle cramps. Go to the nearest spa or do it using your hands and roller to loosen up the muscles.

Heat and Cold Therapy

Heat application after spasms can help soothe the pain from muscle constriction. Take a warm bath or shower, apply a heating pad directly to the tense muscle.

Cold application is another way to treat muscle spasms. Once the pain subsides from heat therapy, grab an ice pack, and put it in the affected muscle.

Elevate If Possible

Keep the tense muscle above heart level to reduce any swelling and relieve pain. Keep it in this position until the pain starts to subside.

Drink Water

Get relief from symptoms by drinking enough liquid, particularly water.

Dehydration plays a part in developing muscle spasms, and drinking enough water throughout the day helps keep symptoms at bay.

Fluid intake also helps the muscles contract and relax, making the muscle cells less irritable or uncomfortable.

Take Medications

Take pain medications (like Ibuprofen or paracetamol) if the spasm continues for longer or if it requires more than home remedies.

When to See a Doctor

Muscle spasms that are recurring and are severe could be a sign of a deeper health issue. These include problems within the circulatory system, metabolism, nerves, or nutrition.

Anyone who regularly experiences severe, painful spasms should seek professional help.

Learn First Aid

Treatment for any injury is important, which is why it is good to know basic first aid methods to ensure you know what to do in an emergency.

Muscle spasms are rarely severe to require medical care. However, immediate treatment is necessary if the condition brings severe discomfort and is associated with muscle swelling, redness, or skin changes.

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