Muscle Spasms, Muscle Cramps, and Muscle Twitches

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Some of my patients have been complaining about muscle twitches and muscle spasms and I see these used interchangeably, so I decided to dive into this common but very annoying quirky muscle contraction. 

What is the difference between a twitch and a spasm?

A muscle twitch and a muscle spasm are both involuntary contractions of a muscle, although they are not quite the same.  A muscle twitch is a short contraction that may happen repeatedly. It can cause discomfort but is not typically painful.  Muscle twitches can be seen. 

muscle spasm is a prolonged contraction that may cause pain. Muscle spasms are also known as muscle cramps.

What are some common causes of muscle twitches (fasciculations)?

  • Being too tired
  • Strenuously exercising
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Too much caffeine
  • Prescription drugs including diuretics, corticosteroids and estrogens
  • Dehydration can also cause twitching in the legs, arms and torso
  • magnesium deficiency can be caused by drinking too much alcohol
  • Calcium deficiency
  • Vitamin D deficiency can be caused by poor diet and no exposure to sunlight

Most of the time, if muscle twitches are troubling, making several changes in your lifestyle can help reduce them from occurring. There  are several more serious conditions including multiples sclerosis and ALS however these have many other symptoms besides muscle twitches.

Muscle spasms on the other hand, occur when muscle  forcibly contracts and cannot relax. These are also very common and can affect any muscle. Typically, they involve part or all of a muscle, or  several muscles in a group. The most common sites for muscle spasms are  the thighs, calves, foot arches, hands, arms, abdomen and sometimes along the ribcage. When occurring in the calves, especially, such cramps  are known as “charley horses.”  Muscle spasms don’t seem to  discriminate and can happen when you walk, sit, perform any exercise, or even sleep. 

What causes muscle spasms?

  • Insufficient stretching before physical activity.
  • Muscle fatigue.
  • Exercising in heated temperatures.
  • Dehydration.
  • Low potassium, magnesium and calcium.

Treatment is straightforward.  It includes massaging and stretching the muscle that has the spasm until it stops.  If spasms reoccur frequently, discuss with Southwest Pain Management on options for treatment.

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