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  • 12/3/2008

Muscle Spasms, Cramps

muscle spasms

Muscle spasms and cramps are spontaneous, often painful muscle contractions.

Most people are familiar with the sudden pain of a muscle cramp. The rapid, uncontrolled contraction or spasm happens unexpectedly, with either no stimulation or some trivially small one. The muscle contraction and pain last for several minutes and then ease slowly.

According to Wrongdiagnosis, cramps may affect any muscle, but are most common in the calves, feet and hands. While painful, they are harmless, and in most cases, not related to any underlying disorder.

Nonetheless, cramps and spasms can also be manifestations of neurological or muscular diseases.

A spasm of muscles leading to pain may indicate abdominal cramps (called colic), menstrual cramps or muscle cramps simply referred to as cramp. 

The terms cramp and spasm can be somewhat vague and are sometimes used to include types of abnormal muscle activity other than sudden painful contraction. These include stiffness at rest, slow muscle relaxation and spontaneous contractions of a muscle at rest.



The pain of a muscle cramp is intense, localized and often debilitating. Coming on quickly, it may last for minutes and fade gradually. Contractures develop more slowly, over days or weeks, and may be permanent if untreated.

According to Healthatoz, normal voluntary muscle contraction begins when electrical signals are sent from the brain through the spinal cord along nerve cells called motor neurons. These include both the upper motor neurons within the brain and the lower motor neurons within the spinal cord and leading out to the muscle.

Certain mechanisms within the brain and the rest of the central nervous system help regulate contraction

Changes in muscle responsiveness may be due to or associated with prolonged exercise. Curiously, relaxation of a muscle actually requires energy to be expended. The energy is used to recapture calcium and to unlink actin and myosin.


Loss of fluids and salts, especially sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, can disrupt ion balances in both muscle and nerves, prevent them from responding and recovering normally, and lead to cramp.

Metabolic disorders that affect the energy supply in muscle are inherited diseases in which particular muscle enzymes are deficient.



Abnormal contractions are diagnosed through a careful medical history, physical and neurological examination, and electromyography of the affected muscles.

Electromyography records electrical activity in the muscle during rest and movement.

According to Neurology in Clinical Practice, most cases of simple cramps require no treatment other than patience and stretching. Gently and gradually stretching and massaging the affected muscle may ease the pain and hasten recovery.

More prolonged or regular cramps may be treated with drugs such as carbamazepine, phenytoin or quinine. Fluid and salt replacement, either orally or intravenously, is used to treat dehydration. Treatment of underlying metabolic or neurological disease, where possible, may help relieve symptoms.

Cramps may also be treated or prevented with Gingko (Ginkgo biloba) or Japanese quince (Chaenomeles speciosa).

Supplements of vitamin E, niacin, calcium and magnesium may also help. Taken at bedtime, they may help reduce the likelihood of night cramps.

other links:

Energy Boosters--Part 2

Make More Time for Yourself: Part 1

2.5 hours of weekly exercise, enough

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