By Don Penven
As we have discusses in previous posts, a Charley Horse is the common name for a muscle spasm.
Muscle spasms can occur anywhere in the body, but most often we get them in the legs. When a muscle goes into spasm, it contracts, defying any attempts you may make to cause it to relax.
Muscle spasms often develop when a muscle is overworked or injured. Conditions that might bring on a muscle spasm include:
• Exercising that leads to dehydration or a drastic lack of fluids..
• Low levels of important minerals such as calcium and potassium.
• Some spasms occur because of irritation of the nerve muscle.. One example is a herniated disk irritates the spinal nerves and causes pain and spasm in the back muscles.
Spasms in the calf often during swimming.
In my case they most often happen at night when I’m in bed. Upper leg spasms are more common with running or jumping activities. A muscle spasm in the neck (cervical spine) can be a sign of stress.
(Author’s Note: I decided to write this post as last night I experienced one of the most painful and long-lasting Charley Horses I can recall. It woke me up around 4:30 a.m. and continued for nearly half an hour. I lie there wondering if there might be some instant cure so I could get back to sleep. I recalled that in Post 5 of this blog I discussed the miracle drink—apple cider vinegar and honey—and I was tempted to get up an mix some up. But then I remembered we are out of honey. So I just lie still and put up with the pain.)
When a muscle goes into spasm it feels very tight. It is sometimes described as a knot. The pain can be mild to severe.
Exams and Tests
In diagnosing a muscle spasm, your health care provider will try to locate tight or hard muscles that are very tender to the touch. Unfortunately there are no imaging studies or blood tests for muscle spasms. If the spasm is caused by nerve irritation, an MRI may be helpful in locating the cause of the problem.
Stop your current activity if awake and on your feet and try stretching and massaging the affected muscle at the first sign of a spasm.
Heat will relax the muscle at first. Ice may be helpful after the first spasm and when the pain has lessened.
If the muscle is still sore after heat and ice, you can try a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medicines like Aleve Or Advil to help with pain. In more severe cases, your health care provider may prescribe anti-spasm medications.
After treatment, your health care provider should look for the cause of the spasm so that it doesn’t recur. If an irritated nerve is involved, you might need physical therapy or even surgery.
Drinking water or sports drinks when exercising can help ease cramps due to dehydration. If drinking water alone is not enough, salt tablets or sports drinks may help replace minerals in your body.
For most of us muscle spasms do get better with rest and time. The outlook is excellent for most of us old-timers. Learning how to exercise properly can prevent spasms from occurring regularly. In my case the primary exercise I get is walking the dog several times every day.
You might need more advanced treatments if an irritated nerves caused the spasm. Results from these treatments can vary in eacj individual.
When you need to your medical provider
Call your health care provider if:
• You have a muscle spasm with severe pain on a consistently regular basis.
• You experience weakness during muscle spasms.
• Stretch the muscles most often subject to cramping to improve your flexibility.
• Change your workouts so that you are exercising within your ability.
• Drink plenty of fluids while exercising and increase your mineral intake—especially potassium. Orange juice and bananas are abundant sources of potassium.
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