Muscle Cramping & Spasms – Treatment Options

The list of potential reasons for developing a muscle cramp or spasm is quite long and somewhat arduous.  Once the cramp or spasms begin, it’s often quite painful!  Therefore, we’re highly motivated to act quickly to eliminate the spasm.  What can you do to prevent muscle cramps and spasms? More importantly, how can you recover from experiencing one?  I will provide simple treatment options to quickly help aid in your recovery.

For discussion purposes, I will address a spasm which isn’t caused by a serious medical condition such as a fracture, muscle tear and/or injury, or other medical conditions which would require the immediate attention of a healthcare practitioner.  If you believe that the spasm is from a serious medical condition, please do not attempt to self-treat the condition–immediately seek competent medical advice.

Over training or overexertion is a common issue experienced by many of the clients who I work with.  It remains a very sensitive topic as no one wants to admit that he/she was physically unprepared for an event or activity in which he/she participated in.  Don’t worry!  The point of participating in competition and other difficult activities is to test your body and to have fun!  During a race or sporting event, you will likely overreach from your training plan.  The hope is that your body is physically prepared to handle this overreaching without injury.  If you experience muscle cramps or spasms before or during an event, modify your training routine for the next event.

Top Tips for Treating Muscle Cramping & Spasms:

  • Massage – Contact a masseuse, physical therapist, athletic trainer, or friend who is skillful in body work and massage to relieve the area in spasm. The specific massage technique to use will vary according to your preference. Massage techniques range from a light relaxing massage to a deep tissue massage or utilization of acupressure points.
  • Foam Roller – The foam roller allows you to perform self-massage and tissue mobilization. The foam roller is a wonderful tool to prevent muscle cramping and spasms. Please refer to the following posts for more information: Foam Rolling For Rehabilitation and 5 Ways to Improve Range-Of-Motion. I highly recommend a High Density Foam Roller to help aid in your recovery.
  • Other Self-Mobilization Tools – Many times, a friend or masseuse isn’t available to assist when you need the help the most. A foam roller cannot effective reach places in the upper back or arms, so other self-mobilization tools may be necessary. You can get creative and use a tennis ball or golf ball, but I like a specific tool called a Thera Cane Massager. This tool allows you to apply direct pressure to a spasming muscle. When held for a long enough period of time, the Thera Cane Massager will usually cause the muscle spasms to release and provide much needed pain relief! I am also a big fan of the Thera-Band Standard Roller Massager. I particularly like that its firmness allows for a deep amount of pressure. If you prefer something similar (but more flexible, for the boney regions of the thigh or lower leg), I recommend The Stick Self Roller Massager.
  • Topical Agents – Many topical agents can help decrease and eliminate muscle spasms. The method of action varies greatly according to the product used. You may find that one product works better than another. Some of my favorite products in my medicine cabinet include: Biofreeze Pain Relieving Gel; Arnica Rub (Arnica Montana, an herbal rub); and topical magnesium.
  • Magnesium Bath – The combination of warm water with magnesium is very soothing and relaxing. Options include: Epsoak Epson Salt or Ancient Minerals Magnesium Bath Flakes. I find that the magnesium flakes work better, but they are significantly more expensive than Epson salt.
  • Oral Magnesium – You can take Mag Glycinate in pill form or by eating foods higher in magnesium such as spinach, artichokes, and dates. Taking additional magnesium (particularly at night) can help to reduce muscle cramps and spasming. It is also very helpful in reducing overall muscle soreness and aiding in a better night’s rest. I recommend beginning with a dose of 200 mg (before bedtime) and increasing the dose as needed. I would caution you that taking too much magnesium can lead to diarrhea. Mag Glycinate in its oral form is the most highly absorbable. Although not as absorbable, Thorne Research Magnesium Citrate and magnesium oxide can also be beneficial.
  • Increase your Electrolyte Intake – You may need to increase your potassium, sodium, or calcium intake to your diet or consider supplementation. Sherpa Pink Gourmet Himalayan Salt contains the electrolytes you would expect as well as a host of other trace minerals. I have found this to be highly effective for cramps and muscle soreness. It also helps me to sleep more soundly. I highly recommend it to anyone who is suffering from chronic cramping or after participating in an athletic event. Drink a small glass of warm water, mixing in a teaspoon full of pink Himalayan sea salt, before bedtime.
  • Fix Your Posture – Poor posture is one of the most common causes of muscle cramping and spasming as well as pain. This is particularly true if you spend a good portion of your day sitting. Sign up to receive my weekly blog posts via e-mail, and I will share with you My Top 8 Stretches to Eliminate Neck, Upper Back, and Shoulder Pain. These simple exercises, with complete instructions and photos, will help you to improve poor posture and can be performed at home.
  • Move More – Not only has research proven that sitting for more than two hours at a time decreases your expected life span, but extended sitting also leads to increased muscle tension, cramping, and pain. If you sit most of the day, get up and walk. If you stand most of the day, frequently change your standing posture. To optimize health and joint function, you should take each joint in your body through a least one full range-of-motion (ROM) every day.
  • Stretch – Stretching is a wonderful way to help eliminate a muscle spasm. We instinctively stretch when we feel a spasm begin. Try gently stretching (lengthening) the muscle which is in spasm. I recommend beginning with a short 30-60 seconds stretch, then repeating as needed. If the spasm or cramp is severe, you will likely need to continue stretching several times in a row, multiple times throughout the day. Stretching should always be part of a general fitness and lifestyle program. As we age, muscle and tendons tend to lose elasticity so stretching becomes even more important. I highly recommend a daily stretching routine or participation in a group class, such as yoga, which incorporates full body stretching.
  • Acupuncture – I am personally a big fan of acupuncture. It is very useful in treating all kinds of medical conditions. It can be particularly effective in treating muscle cramps and spasms as it addresses the issues on multiple layers. Acupuncture directly stimulates the muscle by affecting the nervous system response to the muscle while producing a general sense of well-being and relaxation.
  • Speak with your Physical Therapist (PT) or Physician (MD) – If the above techniques are not helping or if the muscle cramps and spasms continue to come back regularly, speak to your medical provider to determine if other causes are contributing to the problem. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) offers a wonderful resource to help find a physical therapist in your area. In most states, you can seek physical therapy advice without a medical doctor’s referral (although it may be a good idea to hear your physician’s opinion as well).

What are your top tips for dealing with muscle cramping and spasms?  Please post your comments below as we could all use a few more tricks to eliminate pain!

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