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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 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, the patient 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 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 may be associated with twitching. These twitches are considered benign fasciculation.

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 diagnoses, 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.

Return to Muscle Spasms

See what others are saying

Comment from: faw, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: August 10

The spasm in my right lower back, just below the rib cage, is similar to the feeling of having a TENS unit attached to the area. It is not especially painful, just disconcerting.

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Comment from: Nes, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: October 23

I have the worst lower back spasm on my right side, it is like a brick. I am on my feet all day at work, and I just missed 3 days of work. It affects my work, my sleep, and my life when it gets so painful. I'm in pain as I'm typing this. I have had physical therapy, and muscle relaxers.

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Comment from: jwalker, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: May 27

I experience spasms that make the muscles contract, but also make my arms, legs, and back twitch and jerk, then cramps start in. The pain is so intense, because the cramps don't want to allow me to get up to soothe either of the two. I'm just stuck there in pain till it goes away. It often lasts for several minutes, but sometimes lasts much longer. I've been to several doctors each with a different diagnosis, one said myelopathy, another said maybe ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and now another has said she's not sure what it could possibly be. I'm just stuck until I go to pain clinic to see another neurologist and find out what they say. If you are suffering like me don't stop looking for the right diagnosis!

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