Muscle Spasms

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

What are the symptoms and signs of muscle spasms?

The symptoms of muscle spasm depend upon the muscle involved and the circumstances leading up to the spasm.

Skeletal muscle spasm usually involves muscles that are being asked to do excessive work. There is acute onset of pain as the muscle contracts. A bulging, tight muscle may be seen or felt underneath the skin where the muscle is located. Most often, the spasm resolves spontaneously after a few seconds though it may last many minutes or longer. Usually, those affected will feel the need to stretch the muscle involved, thus relieving the spasm and resolving the episode. With heat cramps, the muscle spasm may occur after the activity is completed.

A muscle fasciculation or twitch may last just a few seconds or may be a recurrent event. Usually, it's just a momentary repetitive contraction of just a few muscle fibers of a larger muscle in a localized area served by one nerve fiber. This often involves the eyelid, calf, thigh, or thumb. The fasciculations often come and go and may be related to stress or anxiety. Ingestion of stimulants like caffeine and pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine found in over-the-counter cold medications may also cause the twitch. Medications such as albuterol (Ventolin, Proventil, AccuNeb, VoSpire, ProAir) used for the treatment of asthma and medications used to treat attention deficit disorder (Adderall) may be associated with twitching. These twitches are considered harmless and are referred to as benign fasciculations.

However, muscle twitching may also be associated with neurologic disorders such as muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and myopathy (a primary muscle illness). With these diseases, associated symptoms include weakness, muscle wasting with loss of muscle size, and change in sensation.

Smooth muscle spasm will cause colicky pain that comes and goes. The symptoms will depend upon the organ involved. Continue Reading

Reviewed on 4/21/2016
References
REFERENCE:

Bucholz, R.W., J.D. Heckman, and C.M. Court-Brown. Rockwood and Green's Fracture in Adults. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2006.

Daroff, R.B., et al. Bradleys' Neurology in Clinical Practice, 6th edition. Philadelphia: Elsevier/Saunders, 2012.

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