A human muscle can knot up quicker than an overzealous Boy Scout can tie a figure eight!
Knots occur when your muscle suddenly contracts, or 'shortens'--producing immediate and intense pain. Often muscle spasms result when you have overused the muscle while exercising or have injured it in some way.
But muscle spasms are sometimes caused by inactivity, such as sitting in the same position for too long. And you can also get spasms from a pinched nerve. They may even signal a mineral deficiency.
"Most people call these muscle cramps, but technically, it's a muscle spasm if the pain is sustained and you can actually feel a lump of muscle tissue under your skin," says sports medicine specialist Charles Norelli, M.D., staff physiatrist at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania. But no matter what you call it, here's how to ease a muscle that goes into spasms and prevent the same painful thing from happening again.
Stretch - Logic tells you that pulling on that shortened muscle is the simplest way to get relief. When you get a muscle spasm, treat it with "gentle, gradual stretching of the affected area," suggests Robert Stephens, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Anatomy and director of sports medicine at the University of Health Sciences-College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kansas City, Missouri. "Besides pulling on the muscles, stretching helps improve blood flow to the area, which may reduce spasm pain."
If you're in one position too long, muscles tend to shorten. The movement of stretching can prevent this type of spasm.
"A woman who wears high heels all day might get muscle spasms in her feet after she takes off her shoes," says Dr. Norelli. That's because her feet have been "locked" in the same uncomfortable position all day. "One way to prevent muscle spasms is to stretch your legs and feet after you take off your shoes. Walking around barefoot for a while is usually the best remedy."
Apply moist heat - A hot bath or shower is another way to end muscle spasms. "Like stretching, heat improves blood circulation," says Dr. Stephens. "Heat also helps the connective tissue around the muscles: The warmer that tissue is, the more liquid it is. The colder, the stiffer". I use heat pads a plenty when I am having muscle spasms, this keeps the area moist and warm, click here to read about heat pads and where to purchase heat pads.
Consume more calcium "Sometimes muscle spasms are the result of a calcium deficiency,if you suffer recurrent muscle spasms that don't result from overactivity then a good sources of calcium is a must, these include low-fat dairy products such as yogurt, skim milk and ricotta cheese. Always check with your doctor before adding a calcium supplement.
Say no to acidic foods Try to limit your intake of acidic foods such as tomatoes and vinegar if you suffer from recurrent muscle spasms, these acids can interfere with the body's ability to absorb calcium.
Pump up your potassium Another nutritional deficiency that's been linked to muscle spasms is inadequate potassium. Particularly if you're very active like a long distance runner or a soccer player, it's very important to make sure you eat plenty of potatoes, bananas and other foods high in potassium. Other good sources of potassium include dried peaches, prune juice and beet greens.
Take it easy Since most muscle spasms come from overusing muscles, try to give yourself a break every now and then when doing anything physical. Most people try to work through the pain, and the next morning, they'll pay for it with stiff muscles and intense soreness. If you're spading your garden or painting your house (when you get a muscle spasm), take a break at the first sign of pain. Rest for 15 minutes or so and then resume your work. I think that giving your body a break when it needs it goes a long way toward preventing muscle spasms.
When to See the Doctor
Muscle spasms are usually not serious, and occasional occurrences shouldn't cause you concern. But if you frequently get intense leg cramping, it could be a sign that you have restricted blood flow or blood clotting in your legs, both of which can be extremely serious.
Cramping may also signal a nerve injury. The bottom line: If your pain is very severe or if it occurs several times in one week, consult your doctor.