Muscle spasms or commonly known as muscle cramps are extremely painful contraction of the muscles. Almost all people have experienced muscle cramps in some point of their lives, but some may just experience them more often than the general population. Muscle spasms occur in skeletal muscles. Smooth and cardiac muscles may also result in abnormal contraction; however, different from muscle spasms that occur in skeletal muscles. Muscle spasms commonly occur on the calf muscles, thighs, feet, arms, hands and abdomen.
Muscle spasms are common, but are easily preventable. By knowing the causes of muscle spasms, they can be prevented through avoiding the causative factors. Causes of muscle spasms may involve problems within the muscles or other organs that directly affect the muscular system. Causes of muscle spasms may include:
- Electrolyte imbalance
Electrolyte imbalance is the most common cause of muscle spasms. Calcium is required for the relaxation of muscles and when it is depleted, it causes abnormal twitching or cramping of the skeletal muscles. More severe reduction of calcium causes longer and more painful muscle cramps. Aside from potassium, the imbalance in sodium and potassium also leads to abnormal contraction of the muscles.
- Altered neuromuscular control
Problems on the nerve impulse transmission on the muscles also lead to cramping. Patients with problems on the spinal cord usually experience muscle spasms on the areas lower than the affected cord. Aside from muscle cramping, abnormal neuromuscular control may also lead to very painful cramping that tends to reoccur.
Dehydration is another cause of muscle spasms. Water maintains the normal functioning of the muscles specifically their contraction and relaxation. Muscles are composed mainly by water so any depletion in the hydration status may lead to muscle spasms.
- Muscle Fatigue
Muscle fatigue is another reason for muscle spasms. Muscles that are overused or overworked tend to assume a prolonged contracted form leading to muscles cramps. Those who perform heavy muscle work such as construction workers, body builders and athletes usually experience muscle spasms.
- Poor muscle conditioning
Poor conditioning prior to exercise or work also lead to muscle cramps. Prior to every exercise, warm up activities should be undertaken to condition the muscles in working. Warm up exercises may include stretching and aerobics.
- Assuming new activity
When you engage in a new activity or exercise, your muscles are not yet adapted to the level or intensity of contraction leading to failure to relax and contract effectively.
- Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is a severe cause of muscle spasms. During heat stroke, the level of electrolytes and fluids are depleted. Heat stroke also causes severe muscle spasms that may lead to muscle destruction.
Pregnancy usually cause muscle cramps especially at night. During pregnancy, the level of calcium and phosphorus in the body is affected because of increased requirements by the mother and the fetus.
Muscle cramps are usually managed by stopping the activity and stretching the affected muscles. Flexion of the foot towards the shin while stretching the leg usually relieves muscle spasms that occur on the lower extremities. Massaging the affected muscles also relieve painful cramps.
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