Information on stopping and preventing involuntary muscle twitching and contractions of the body.
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What are Muscle Spasms?
Perhaps you’ve been sitting in front of your computer the whole day, and suddenly you feel an unbearable tightness in your back when you get up. This tightness occurs when a muscle becomes rigid, contracts involuntarily and goes into spasm. The fibers within the muscle contract and tighten, thereby stopping the blood flow. When a muscle goes into spasm, the muscle cannot relax on its own or release with movement. Muscle spasms usually affect the neck, shoulder, back, legs, knees or abdominal muscles, and often these areas are locked in spasm.
There are many factors that contribute to a muscle spasm (also known as a charley horse). Often a muscle spasm is the result of muscle strain that overtaxes or injures the muscles, particularly in the case of athletes. Spasm can also occur when you move too quickly, sleep in a cramped position, bunch your shoulders sitting at a desk or overstretch your back muscles reaching for something. Muscle spasms can also occur at night and are commonly due to prolonged sitting during the day or low levels of certain minerals in the body.
Spasmodic reactions can be brought on because of painful posture, poor nutrition and exposure to chemicals. Exposure to cold weather such as a draft on your neck can also cause a severe spasm and pain, resulting in the inability to move or bend the neck at all.
The Difference between Muscle Spasms and Twitching
The main difference between a spasm and a twitch is movement. When a muscle or group of muscles suddenly feels “cramped” and painful without a sense of movement to it, we tend to call that a spasm. The sudden tightness in your back after sitting at the computer for a long time is a good example. A twitch, on the other hand, involves an inherent sense of smaller muscles moving or “jumping” of their own volition. An eyelid twitch is probably the most common example of this1.
Understanding the Symptoms of Muscle Spasms
The common signs and symptoms of muscle spasms include:
- Loss of function
- Abnormal muscle rigidity
- Difficulty in moving, turning or bending the neck, shoulder, back, etc.
- Pain in the affected area
What Causes Muscle Spasms?
It’s important to understand that muscle spasms and twitching are often not the result of underlying disease. A build-up of lactic acid in muscles from physical activity can be a cause, as can stress or anxiety, too much caffeine, dehydration, nicotine or certain vitamin deficiencies.
Muscle spasms in the legs are quite common and usually present themselves in the calves, just below the back of the knee. Pain during a muscle spasm can range from mild to severe and can last up to 10 minutes.
Poor circulation in the legs, high or low concentration of sodium or potassium, overexertion of muscles and some medications are among the more common reasons leg muscle spasms occur.
Back muscle spasms many times are the result of inflammation or soreness of a particular muscle in the back due to sudden movement at an incorrect angle. Muscle spasms in the back are quite common, as even back muscle strain while completing household chores can cause spasms.
Muscle spasms in the shoulder commonly occur when the muscles are strained from overuse during exercise or sports activities. In this case especially, muscle spasms and dehydration are likely hand-in-hand given the nature of the situation. Shoulders are very susceptible to overuse, particularly when performing a repetitive action or reaching for objects on high shelves.
Poor posture while sleeping can also cause muscle spasms, usually manifesting as a sharp pain in the shoulder blade. Muscle spasms in the neck can be the result of twisting the neck suddenly, causing an over-stretching in the neck muscles that leads to an inability to move the neck freely.
What is Twitching?
Also called muscle fasciculation, twitches are small contractions in muscle fibers caused by stimulation or damage in the nerves that control those muscles. Like spasms, twitches are often benign results of lifestyle habits, like excess physical activity, stress or dehydration. While this can occur anywhere on the body, muscle twitching in legs, arms and back are among the more common areas.
Though generally not an urgent situation, some twitching can be a symptom of a more serious condition. A doctor can determine if recurring spasms or twitching are lifestyle related or caused by an underlying nervous system disorder2.
Understanding Twitching as a Symptom
Chronic or persistent muscle spasms or twitching that does not alleviate with lifestyle changes may be a symptom of a problem with the nervous system. Muscular dystrophy, Lou Gehrig’s disease, spinal muscular atrophy and Isaac’s syndrome can first manifest as frequent, recurring spasms or twitching. These conditions are rather rare, so a doctor’s visit is crucial in ruling them out2.
What Causes Twitching?
Before you can determine how to stop muscle twitching, it’s smart to look at potential reasons. Like muscle spasms, twitching is most often caused by lifestyle and environmental factors. Common muscle twitching causes include stress, excess physical activity, dehydration, nicotine and poor posture.
Help for Muscle Spasms and Twitching
Choosing muscle cramps treatments will depend on the cause, as well as whether the problem is chronic or an isolated incident.
Natural remedies such as Tic Tamer™ may provide temporary relief from symptoms of spasms and twitching. It is also important to keep in mind that for treatment to be successful, a healthy diet, plenty of rest and exercise are very important.
Applying alternate hot and cold packs to the affected area may help soothe pain due to the numbing effect it creates.
Emotional and psychological stress such as anxiety, panic, tension, frustration or anger can often set off a series of reactions in the body that affect the nervous system. Spasms, muscle tension, pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders are symptoms that are commonly experienced when a person is under stress.
There are several approaches when it comes to muscle twitching and spasms remedies, but learning to manage stress can be an especially effective way to address both spasms and twitching. Strategies for addressing anxiety and tension include stretching, physical therapy, massage, progressive relaxation exercises and acupuncture.
1. Kurz, Jennifer, M.D. "Conditions." Muscle Spasms. May 2016. Accessed March 31, 2019. https://www.spine.org/KnowYourBack/Conditions/Other/MuscleSpasms.
2. "What You Need to Know About Muscle Twitching." Healthline. Accessed March 31, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/muscle-twitching.