Older woman with a muscle spasm in her wrist

Why Do I Get Muscle Spasms and How Can I Prevent Them?

Small muscle spasms on your eyelid, hand or thigh may cause a pulsing sensation, as if a tiny motor has been turned on. They are usually short-term, painless and, though they may be annoying, very rarely indicate a serious disorder. Larger muscle spasms, however, that suddenly knot your calf or tighten your lower back can be excruciating and temporarily disabling. At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, we treat patients with all sorts of musculoskeletal problems, including muscle spasms.

What is a muscle spasm?

Muscle spasms occur when a muscle forcibly and involuntarily contracts and cannot relax. They may involve only part of a muscle, the whole muscle, or several muscles in a group. The affected site may feel hard to the touch or appear temporarily misshapen. Muscle spasms are sometimes called “charley horses,” especially when they occur in the legs. 

As noted, the intensity of muscle cramps may vary; their duration, too, is variable — from seconds to 15 minutes or longer. Sometimes, they recur within a relatively short time. If you are experiencing repeated muscle spasms or have a back spasm that doesn’t resolve or leaves you with severe pain, you require medical treatment.

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physiatrists (doctors specially trained in pain management and restoration of function) diagnose and treat muscle spasms as we do all ailments — holistically and without surgical intervention.

What causes muscle spasms?

Muscle spasms, also known as muscle cramps, can be caused by a number of factors, some of which are linked to underlying musculoskeletal problems. These causes include:

  • Inadequate blood flow to muscles (due to arteriosclerosis, diabetes, etc.)
  • Muscle injury or nerve compression (e.g. stenosis)
  • Overexertion, such as heavy lifting or muscle fatigue
  • Exercising without prior stretching or exercising in extreme heat or cold
  • Dehydration (sometimes the result of taking diuretic medication)
  • Mineral depletion (low blood level of calcium, potassium, or sodium)
  • Staying in one position for a prolonged period

It should be noted that, although muscle spasms can occur due to overexertion, many individuals are awakened by muscle spasms from a sound sleep.

Risk Factors for Muscle Spasms

While muscle spasms can occur at any time to anyone, some individuals are more prone to experience them. Risk factors include:

  • Being 65 or older 
  • Being an athlete or engaging in heavy lifting
  • Being pregnant
  • Being a smoker
  • Having a medical condition like diabetes or a nerve, liver or thyroid disorder
  • Having arthritis or a herniated or ruptured disc in your spine
  • Being obese and/or having weak abdominal muscles

In spite of the fact that muscle spasms may seem out of your control, at Long Island Spine we offer physical therapy that will provide you with exercises that will help prevent them. Once we have diagnosed the cause of your muscle spasms, we can also provide you with various treatment options.

How Long Island Spine Can Help You Manage Muscle Spasms

Our team of specialists will show you ways to relieve muscle spasms at home as well as provide you with treatments at one of our conveniently located offices.

Home remedies for muscle spasms include:

  • Stretching and massaging the affected muscle
  • Applying ice to relieve soreness and inflammation
  • Applying heat to loosen tight muscles and improve blood flow
  • Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) 
  • Taking prescribed muscle relaxants

Depending on our diagnosis of any underlying conditions, our doctors may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Injection of corticosteroids and analgesics under ultrasound guidance
  • Physical therapy to strengthen your back and abdominal muscles
  • Acupuncture 
  • Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) therapy
  • Platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy

How can I prevent muscle spasms?

Although there is no guarantee that the following advice will prevent you from ever experiencing another muscle cramp, there is every possibility that following these recommendations will lessen the problem you have no underlying conditions:

  • Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of liquids, remembering to increase your fluid with exercise, heat, and when taking dehydrating medications
  • Engage in regular exercise as prescribed by your doctor
  • Stretch before exercising and, if you tend to have leg spasms at night, before sleep
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese
  • Stop smoking
  • Maintain good posture and wear supportive footwear
  • Avoid heavy lifting as much as possible and learn to lift correctly

Signs of Possible Trouble

Most of the time, muscle spasms are not indicators of a serious medical issue. Nonetheless, if you continue to be bothered by them or are experiencing severe pain after a muscle cramp has passed, it’s time to make an appointment with one of our skilled diagnosticians to get to the root of the problem. This is particularly true if your discomfort is accompanied by:

  • Leg swelling, redness or skin changes
  • Muscle weakness
  • Stiffness or difficulty walking

In general, any symptom that repeatedly or persistently interferes with your normal activities is a good reason to seek the professional assistance of our dedicated doctors