Pain Causes Cramps Spasm

Muscle spasms, legs cramps and menstrual cramps occur when muscles involuntarily contract, or spasm. In general, spasms in the body occur quickly, come without warning and are often very painful.

Although muscle cramps can strike any muscle in the body, some muscles are more susceptible to cramping than others. Leg cramps, for example, are very common and occur when muscles in the calves and thighs spasm.

While often painful, most muscle spasms and cramps are harmless. Generally, after a few minutes, the muscle relaxes and the cramp subsides. If you regularly suffer from cramps over an extended period of time, talk to your doctor. Although most people experience cramps at some point in their lives, chronic cramping and muscle spasms can indicate the presence of an underlying neurological and/or muscle disorder.

How Muscles Work

Muscles contract and relax when they receive electric signals from the brain through specialized nerve cells called motor neurons. These motor neurons release chemicals that cause the muscle to release calcium ions, which starts a complex reaction of chemicals and proteins that causes muscle contraction. To relax, the muscle reabsorbs the calcium ions.

When this complex process malfunctions or experiences any sort of interruption, the muscles spasm and/or cramp.

Causes of Muscle Spasms

In most cases, muscles will spasm as the result of:

  • dehydration
  • excessive sweating
  • fatigue
  • ion imbalances caused by vomiting or diarrhea
  • physical activity
  • poor circulation
  • spending prolonged periods of time in cold temperatures.

Occasionally, cramping and muscle spasms are symptoms of a more serious underlying medical condition. Some of the more severe health conditions that cause muscle cramps include:

  • cerebral palsy
  • multiple sclerosis
  • nerve damage
  • nervous system toxins
  • neurodegenerative diseases
  • spinal cord injury
  • stroke
  • trauma.

Muscle Spasm Treatments

Unless some underlying medical condition is causing cramping, most cramps and muscle spasms subside within a few minutes. Spasms and cramping caused by strained or injured muscles can last for days. While cramps caused by other, more serious conditions can only be cured by treating the underlying condition itself, treatments for the common muscle spasm include:

  • Gentle stretching: Stretching promotes greater flexibility and improves blood flow throughout your body. Your doctor can help you figure out stretching exercises that can help calm your muscle spasms.

  • Heat compresses: Applying heat to the areas of the body that are cramping can help relax the muscles and relieve your pain. Apply moist heat to the muscle several times a day for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.

  • Ice: Like heat, applying ice to spastic muscles calms them. Put an ice pack on injured or cramping muscles for half an hour every three to four hours.

  • Massage: Massaging muscle groups that are cramping improves blood circulation to the affected area. Depending on the location of the cramps, you can either self-massage or have someone else massage the muscle. Ask your doctor or physical therapist about effective massage techniques before treating a spasm with massage.

Preventing Muscle Spasms

The best way to treat muscle spasms and cramps is to take the proper steps to prevent them from ever arising. Here are some techniques that aid in preventing cramps and spasms:

  • Avoid poor posture: Poor posture often causes muscle spasms. If you sit for long periods at work, learn desk exercises, take breaks to walk around and make your workspace as ergonomic as possible.

  • Drink enough fluid: Many people don’t drink enough fluids, leaving them dehydrated and putting them at risk of suffering from muscle spasms. Consuming an adequate amount of fluids can help prevent exercise-related muscle spasms.

  • Stretch properly: Before and after exercising, stretch to help prevent muscle spasms and sports injuries. Regular stretching is also recommended for people who spend long periods of time working at desks or otherwise staying in one position for extended amounts of time.

Menstrual Cramps

Menstrual cramps are caused by strong muscle contractions in the abdomen. During menstruation, the uterine lining is shed and must be removed from the uterus. Prostaglandin hormones then trigger the uterine muscles to contract in order to push the shed lining out of the uterus. These contractions cause the cramps.

While some women hardly feel menstrual cramps, others regularly suffer from severe pain and discomfort. Women who produce higher levels of prostaglandin during menstruation tend to experience more painful menstrual cramps than those who only produce low levels of this hormone.

Treating Menstrual Cramps

Many of the same techniques used to treat leg cramps and muscle spasms can help with menstrual cramping. Common treatments for menstrual cramps include:

  • applying heat to the abdomen

  • lying down

  • massaging the affected area

  • taking oral contraceptives (such as Ortho Tri-Cyclen®, Yaz®, etc.)

  • taking over-the-counter medication (such as Midol, Motrin, etc.)

  • taking warm baths.

Occasionally, menstrual cramps can be a sign of other conditions. Women who suddenly develop menstrual cramps or whose cramping suddenly worsens should talk to their doctors.




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Rouziet, P. (2005). Muscle Spasms. Retrieved August 30, 2007, from the University of Michigan Health System Web site:

University of Missouri – St. Louis (n.d.). Cramping Information. Retrieved August 30, 2007, from the University of Missouri – St. Louis Web site: Information.htm.