What Causes Muscle Spasms
Muscle spasms are one of the most common symptoms seen among the adult population. They are sudden, forceful involuntary contractions of the individual skeletal muscles or groups of muscles causing significant pain, tightness or stiffness of the muscle and a transient restriction of movement of the affected region. When the spasm gets sustained or prolonged, it is also termed as a muscle cramp. Essentially, spasms are of a short duration and get better in a few minutes, rarely extending for a few hours, but may tend to recur in some situations.
Common muscles or groups of muscles which are involved in muscle spasms include the calf muscles, the thigh muscles, the neck or cervical muscles, back muscles (paraspinal muscles) especially the mid back – thoracic or the lower back – lumbar regions. Sometimes, spasms also affect the arm (biceps) or the forearm muscles. Some people also experience significant muscle spasms in the abdominal wall muscles or the chest wall – the rib cage muscles. Specific eye (ocular) muscles rarely develop spasms.
Causes Of Muscle Spasms
Muscle spasms may occur due to a variety of reasons which include the following:
Muscle Fatigue Or Overuse
This follows excessive use of a particular muscle group with a specific activity – commonly seen in runners, sometimes when during a workout or when a game is played without a proper warm-up routine. Moreover, any form of unaccustomed exercise may induce muscle spasms due to overuse.
Loss of fluid from the body is invariably associated with loss of electrolytes, both sodium and potassium. Potassium depletion especially leads to muscle spasms which recovers, once adequate fluid and electrolyte balance is restored. Dehydration typically occurs with acute gastroenteritis and with symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea, and fever, following poor oral intake in the elderly or very young or following heavy sweating during the hot summer months.
Deficiencies Of Nutrients
Vitamins, electrolytes and micronutrient deficiencies can cause muscle spasms. Poor oral intake or absorption of vitamin BI (Thiamine), B6 (Pyridoxine) and B12 (cyanocobalamin), vitamin D and vitamin E can cause muscle spasms. Anemia due to iron deficiency can contribute to muscle spasms as well. Deficiency of calcium and magnesium, the important minerals for each and every muscle action can lead to severe muscle spasms too.
The calcium deficiency condition is called hypocalcemia and it is the primary cause of tetany which is a peculiar spasm called carpopedal spasm. In this situation, the fingers and toes go into a peculiar folded painful tight posture, intermittently. Micronutrient deficiencies like selenium and zinc deficiency can also lead to muscle spasms. A type of nocturnal spasm – also called ‘restless leg syndrome’ is attributed to micronutrient deficiencies.
Impaired Blood Circulation
A decrease in the blood flow to a particular group of muscles or a limb also causes severe spasms. A spasm-like pain called claudication is noticed, especially in the calf muscles in patients with reduced arterial flow in the blood vessels of the lower limb. It happens due to acute or chronic blocks or blocks resulting from atherosclerosis or thickening of the arteries. This condition is usually more common in smokers and also in diabetic patients. People with varicose veins also develop intermittent spasms in the legs.
Back muscle or paraspinal muscle spasms occur with spinal abnormalities including intervertebral disc bulges or spinal canal stenosis. These back spasms can be very painful and can limit regular mobility.
Hypothyroidism or thyroxine deficiency is commonly associated with intermittent muscle spasms and muscle pains. Hyperthyroidism, that is an excess of thyroxine production, is also known to cause muscle spasms of small groups of muscles.
Muscle spasms and cramps are common in diabetic patients and are associated with the level of diabetic control and the associated complications like reduced circulation of the limb and presence of diabetic neuropathy.
Patients with chronic kidney diseases complain of significant muscle spasms and patients who are on dialysis experience the spasms regularly, during the dialysis session – primarily related to the ion fluxes in the body.
Most patients suffering from malignancies have a high turnover of cells and develop both muscle spasms and bone pains.
Use Of Diuretics
Diuretics or cholesterol lowering drugs or drugs used for treatment of asthma are sometimes known to causes muscle spasms by either direct effect on the muscles or through electrolyte disturbances.
If muscle spasms occur regularly, evaluation to identify some of the above conditions is necessary so that appropriate measures can then be taken to treat the primary cause for the spasms. A healthy balanced diet rich in minerals, micronutrients, and vitamins with adequate water and electrolytes replenishment and a physically active life, will help overcome these nagging painful symptoms.