Muscle spasms occur when a muscle involuntarily and forcibly contracts and cannot relax. These can cause pain and affect 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. Though generally harmless, muscle spasms can make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle; sometimes leading to many different symptoms. Muscle spasms range in intensity from mild twitches to severe pain. The spastic muscle may feel harder than normal to the touch, and/or appear visibly distorted. Spasms may typically last from seconds to 15 minutes or longer, and may recur multiple times before going away.
Muscle spasms can occur at any time – while walking, sitting, performing any exercise, or even sleeping. And they do happen to both young and old; sedentary or the active.
Causes of muscle spasms
Muscle fatigue and strain/injury.
Dehydration and mineral depletion (potassium, calcium or magnesium).
Narrowing of the arteries leading to inadequate blood supply and nutrients to the muscles.
Insufficient stretching before physical activity as well as unfamiliar exercise activities.
Long periods of exercise/physical labor especially under unfavorable weather. Overstretching/overuse or holding muscle in the same position for a prolonged period of time.
Some medications and certain medical conditions. The best relief for muscle spasms is to rest, keep well hydrated, and do gentle stretching/or massage. But those who have an underlying medical condition as a cause of muscle spasms often need to treat the original medical problem to help control the muscle spasms. There are also a few natural remedies you can try for muscle spasm relief.
Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne peppers is a well known natural muscle relaxant. It is commonly added to many dishes. Besides its availability in the supermarket spice aisle, cayenne pepper is available in capsule form. It is also widely available in creams and ointments and will alleviate spasms when applied over the ailing area.
Thyme – you are probably familiar with this plant as a food seasoning. In addition to livening up the flavor of food, thyme also packs a punch when it comes to pain relief. The plant contains thymol, which is an effective vasodilator of blood capillaries. This helps the body transport blood, even stimulating the flow of white blood cells to reduce inflammation and increase the rate of healing. The tea can be used as infusion – 1 standard teacup 2 x daily. Thyme is also available as an oil, liniment, or ointment used topically to alleviate pain and inflammation associated with muscle spasms.
Curcumin, the active substance in turmeric is well known for its ability to control inflammation. Used fresh or dried, turmeric when added to your daily meals can soothe spastic muscles. You can also purchase turmeric in capsule form as supplement.
Chamomile- using this herb for pain relief dates back to ancient times. Chamomile contains a lot of flavonoids with anti-inflammatory properties. It is available as tea and can be found in the form of an essential oil, used in aromatherapy to soothe muscle spasms.
Essential oils-many essential oils are effective muscle relaxants and analgesics. One of the most popular for this purpose is peppermint oil. It is super effective at soothing sore muscles. Lemongrass oil is also beneficial for alleviating muscle spasms. Essential oils of frankincense and cypress alleviate inflammations. These essential oils are readily available in health stores.
Please note – most essential oils shouldn’t be directly applied to the skin. Be sure to put a few drops of your preferred essential oil into a carrier oil of your choice, e.g. coconut oil.
Vitamin D (sunshine vitamin): if you experience muscle spasms on a regular basis, it could be a sign that you’re low on the sunshine vitamin. The lack of this essential vitamin can cause muscle and nerve pain to worsen. Soaking up a little sun (early morning) daily is a natural way to get vitamin D. The good news is that you can also get vitamin D from a variety of food sources, such as eggs, milk, and fatty fish. It’s also available in capsule form, and many moisturizing lotions list vitamin as one of their ingredients. Magnesium is an important mineral renowned for its ability to calm spasming muscle tissue and assist with normal nerve function. Without it, your muscles can’t move the way they are supposed to. Your nerves won’t send and receive messages. Magnesium-rich foods include spinach, okra, tamarind, bananas, potato (with skin), brown rice, legumes, flaxseed, almonds e.t.c. You may take between 200-500 mg daily (as the case may be) for normal muscle function.
Heating pads can also aid in the process of recovery. Heat is a powerful pain reliever and is very cost effective. Heat helps increase the blood flow to the affected area where it is applied. It promotes relaxation and improves range of motion thereby reducing tightness/stiffness and muscle spasms.
Epsom Salt- is a long used natural remedy for relaxing sore muscles. Rich in magnesium, bathing in warm water with epsom salt is an excellent, natural way to alleviate sore, tense muscles. You just need to add a handful to your bath water, and your muscles will turn from sore to happy!
Organic sulfur, one of the popular uses of this mineral is to decrease muscle or joint pain. Sulfur helps to alleviate discomfort that may follow challenging exercise sessions. It has been shown to improve flexibility and mobility by enhancing joint function and health. Dietary sulfur comes in many forms and can be found in a variety of plant and animal-based foods and even non-protein foods. Good sources include allium vegetables (garlic, onions, leeks, shallots); cabbage, kale, cauliflower; certain fruits, nuts, grains; meat and fish. Begin now to add these foods to your diet; Your body will be very pleased, and your muscles will too!
Note that muscle spasms usually disappear on their own and are rarely serious enough to require health care. However, see your physician if your spasms cause severe discomfort, are associated with swelling, redness or skin change, happen frequently and aren’t associated with an obvious cause, such as strenuous exercise.