What is the difference?

  • Muscle cramps are sudden, involuntary, and generally painful muscle contractions, which can occur at any time throughout the day or night. These usually resolve spontaneously within minutes.
  • Muscle spasm is a sustained, involuntary muscle contraction, which usually feels like a “knot” or “tightness”, and can be painful when you use that muscle or group of muscles, causing limited range of motion. Muscle spasm cannot be completely relieved by voluntary effort.

What causes it?

  • Cramps: recent evidence supports the “neural excitability” hypothesis, which involves disturbances at the central or peripheral nervous system and skeletal muscle. Other popular theories exist, including dehydration, low potassium or sodium levels, inadequate carbohydrate intake and excessively tight muscles.
  • Spasm: is often associated with a history of degenerative and/or inflammatory conditions of the musculoskeletal system, such as chronic low back or neck pain.

How to avoid it:

  • To prevent muscle cramps you should stretch regularly, maintain good posture and muscle balance, undertake enough conditioning for your activities and allow sufficient recovery after training. Other strategies such as massage, adequate hydration, carbohydrate and electrolyte intake can be helpful also.
  • Muscle spasm can take a while to improve, as it is generally secondary to an underlying condition. It is important to address the underlying condition and treat as appropriate.  Often massage, heat (i.e., a wheat bag or hot water bottle) and regular stretching can be beneficial.

Bear in mind that pain in the muscle is not always a cramp or spasm.  Muscular pain can be a number of things such as soft tissue contusion (bruising), a tear/strain, referred pain from the spine, or other more concerning conditions for example an underlying stress fracture or deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

At Back To Health our physiotherapists will thoroughly assess your condition and provide treatment to get you back on track fast, and where appropriate refer you for further investigation.  If it is a massage you need, we have Danielle, our massage therapist to speed up your recovery!

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