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.

How are muscle spasms treated?

Prevention is the key to most skeletal muscle spasm episodes. Since they are often associated with dehydration and electrolyte disturbances, it is important to keep the body well hydrated. If the fluid loss is due to an illness with fever or vomiting and diarrhea, controlling the symptoms will help limit fluid loss and prevent spasms. Similarly, for those who work or exercise in a hot environment, drinking enough fluids to keep hydrated is very important. It is often helpful as well to hydrate prior to activities in warm environments.

Muscles should also be prepared for the activity that they are expected to do. Just as athletes stretch and warm up before the game, nonathletes should warm up before heavy labor, including jobs like raking, mowing, and shoveling snow.

Should a large skeletal muscle go into spasm (often referred to as a charley horse), the initial treatment is to gently stretch the muscle back to length to break the spasm cycle and resolve the acute situation.

Further treatment will depend upon the underlying cause of the muscle spasms. For muscles that have been damaged or strained, medications may be required for short-term pain relief, including anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen [Advil, Motrin]), narcotics, and muscle relaxants.

The treatment of smooth muscle spasm, such as bowel spasm, also depends upon the underlying cause.

Nocturnal leg cramps are difficult to control and treat. Historically, quinine has been prescribed to help with the muscle spasms, but this drug can have side effects including abnormal bleeding problems. Other medications, including B-complex vitamins, gabapentin and diltiazem, may be helpful.

Many possible treatments are available for the dystonias. The decision as to which medication to use depends upon the individual situation. It may take trial and error to find the right medication in the right dose to control symptoms.

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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