Before we look at what causes muscle spasms, we need to understand how a muscle works — by contraction and relaxation. Let’s observe what happens deep inside our muscle tissue before, during, and after we use a muscle.
When you hold an elastic band between two fingers, those fingers are the connection that tells the band what to do. When you want to stretch it, your fingers pull on both sides and the band becomes stiff — in other words, it lengthens.
When you release the band, it becomes short — it contracts. Keep in mind that the elastic band consists of many layers and very basic, functional units. The same goes for your muscles.
Professors Arthur Guyton and John Hall describe in the Textbook of Medical Physiology how, when you want to use a muscle, the brain sends a “call to action” by way of your nervous system to the neuromuscular junction that controls your fingers. Here, the “message” is transferred from the neuromuscular junction through the layers of muscle until it finally arrives at the sarcomeres, the basic functional units of a muscle.
What Causes Muscle Spasms?
It’s important to note here that there’s a difference between muscle pain and nerve pain. Muscle pain can be the result of the wrong “message” being sent from the nerves to the muscle and improper feedback from the muscle to the brain, resulting in a spasm. According to Mayo Clinic, nerve pain is more commonly caused by pressure on a nerve’s root from something like a bulging disc.
You can imagine muscle spasms as the difference between a “hug” and a “hold” — an intense hold is when contraction lasts longer than necessary, causing the muscle to spasm. In an ideal world, we’d be getting hugs from our muscles all the time, and never holds!
There are a number of reasons why a normal “hug” might turn into a forceful “hold”:
Dehydration or Lack of Electrolytes: Electrolytes help to convey the correct message being sent via the neuromuscular junction to the sarcomeres, so a lack of these crucial nutrients can hinder this process.
Lack of Necessary Nutrients: The correct ratio of magnesium, sodium, potassium, glucose, calcium, and water allows proteins to develop an organized contraction.
Good Blood Circulation: If all is not well here, your muscles will not receive all the nutrients, oxygen, and water they need to stay happy and healthy.
Excess of Metabolic Waste: When you don’t drink enough water, your body becomes overloaded and can’t flush all the excess waste that is normally produced through everyday action. These “toxins” collect in your muscle tissue and interfere with its normal functioning.
Excess stress: Stress wreaks havoc within your nervous system, sending and receiving messages when and where it’s not supposed to.
Overuse: Muscles don’t get the necessary time they need to relax and recover.
According to Dr. Bilkey, specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, muscle tissue actually responds to emotions and stress. She also notes that a “spasm develops when a muscle is too weak to perform its normal job, or if it is abnormally tight.”
If you’ve overused your muscles and they’re not receiving the right amount nutrients, they become fatigued, eventually reacting by way of painful, forceful contractions.
Keeping Muscle’s Magic
Now the question becomes, how you can treat or prevent muscle spasms from happening? It comes down to the following:
Eat a healthy and balanced diet to give your muscles all the nutrients they need.
Make sure your body is hydrated before, during, and after a workout.
Stretch your muscles gently before and after a workout.
Relax your body and mind with Navina Thai massage therapy, one of the best, most natural ways to prevent muscle spasms. Navina’s massage practitioners increase blood flow and reduce tension, making you less prone to muscle spasms and keeping them from becoming more serious soft tissue injuries.