Muscle spasms are involuntary and painful muscular contractions and it occurs mainly when a muscle is completely exhausted. Anybody who does strenuous work or exercise in hot environment develops such spasms easily. When a muscle is held in a position for some time or if it is over stretched, the muscle cells may run out of fluid and energy and become easily irritable, leading to a forceful contraction.
Muscle spasm may affect whole muscle or part of a muscle and at times it may spread to the adjacent muscles as well. But, it’s not only the muscle injury that cause muscle spasms rather certain underlying diseases also causes pain and stiffness in the muscles. Normally muscular contractions are controlled by electrical signals sent from the brain through the nervous system.
Whenever, the smooth flow of electrical signals is interrupted, nervous system fails to release certain chemicals which are responsible for the relaxation of muscles leading to the stiffness of muscles. Hence, muscle spasms can also be the symptom of a debilitating health condition as well.
Diseases Causing Muscle Spasms
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that is characterized by the degeneration of the central nervous system. Degeneration of neurons causes movement disorders characterized by trembling of legs, hands, head, arms,
muscular rigidity of the trunk or legs and postural instability. The lack of movement associated with Parkinson’s disease will also lead to muscle spasms and pain.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis also named as Lou Gehrig’s disease is a quickly advancing neurodegenerative disease. It affects the nerve cells of the spinal cord and brain and commonly the lower motor neurons that travel from the spinal cord to the muscles and the upper motor neurons that transmit impulses from the brain to the spinal cord are affected.
When the motor neurons degenerate, a person loses his/her ability to control the muscle contractions and movements. Degeneration of nerve cells leads to hardening or scarring of the affected nerve cells and the affected person may have stiff, tight and spastic muscles with exaggerated reflexes. Similarly cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis that affects the nerve cells also cause muscle spasms.
Poliomyelitis is caused by a viral infection that affects the nerve cells and causes full or partial body paralysis. Polio virus is transmitted through personal contact, contact with infected stool or contact with infected mucous from the diseased person. There are three patterns of infection, such as paralytic, non-paralytic and subclinical.
Subclinical infection has no or little muscle spasms, while non-paralytic infection has muscle spasms anywhere in the body, excessive fatigue and back pain. Paralytic infection has muscle spasms of the neck, calf or back, fever and breathing difficulties. Other infectious diseases that affect the nervous system like tetanus or rabies also cause painful muscle spasms.
Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease, otherwise known as peripheral vascular disease is the narrowing of arteries due to the deposition of cholesterol and fat on the artery walls. Narrowing of arteries limits the flow of blood towards the extremities of the body and cause muscle spasms in legs and hands. Poor blood circulation also reduces the amount of oxygen available to the muscles and inhibits the muscles from quick recovery.
Certain inherited metabolic disorders like McArdle’s disease, in which certain enzymes become deficient leading to reduced availability of energy to the muscle, resulting in weakness and muscle spasms. These enzymes include phosphorylase b kinase, myophosphorylase, phosphofructokinase, lactate dehydrogenase, phosphoglycerate kinase etc.
Wilson’s disease is a rare inherited disease that is caused due to the excessive accumulation of copper in the liver red blood cells and brain.
Sustained muscular contraction is a common symptom of this disease.
Deficiency of calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin B12 in the diet may cause muscles spasms; hence it is necessary to include adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals in your diet. Similarly dehydration and salt depletion caused by diarrhea, vomiting or exercising disrupts the muscle functions and leads to muscle spasms.
Certain medications such as anti-anxiety medications or sedatives will interfere with the ability of the body to receive and send signals through the nervous system. This in turn misinterprets the messages resulting in muscles spasms. Similarly certain potent as well as less potent diuretics that remove body fluid vigorously can cause muscle spasms.
This is because diuretic often depletes fluid, sodium, magnesium, potassium and calcium from the body, which are essential for the normal functioning of the body. Other medications that cause the muscles spasms include ACE inhibitors for lowering blood pressure, corticosteroids, cocaine, estrogens, statins for lowering cholesterol, insecticides etc.