Muscle spasms are involuntary contractions of a muscle. People often have "tight" muscles in their neck, back, shoulder, or legs. These are muscle spasms. Athletes sometimes get cramps in their muscles during strenuous activity. These cramps are also spasms.
A common name for a muscle cramp or spasm is charley horse. This term is especially used for cramps in the leg.
How do they occur?
A spasm usually occurs from overusing muscles or from an injury. If you are dehydrated during strenuous activity, you are likely to have cramps.
Cramps in the calf of the leg often occur at night during sleep.
What are the symptoms?
A spasm feels like tightness or a knot in a muscle. It may hurt when you use the muscle. It may be hard to use the muscle.
A cramp during exercise may be extremely painful.
How are they diagnosed?
Your health care provider will examine your muscles and find that they are very tight and tender to touch.
How are they treated?
Put ice packs on spasms caused by injury for the first 2 to 3 days. Use the ice for 20 to 30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours.
Try stretching the muscle. For example, you can stretch a cramp in the calf of your leg by straightening your lower leg and pulling your foot toward your head. It may also help to stand on the leg that is cramping.
Spasms that last a long time may be treated with moist heat for 20 to 30 minutes several times a day.
Your health care provider may give you stretching exercises.
Some spasms may be caused by poor posture. For example, you may have neck spasms after sitting at a computer terminal for too long or in an awkward position. These spasms may be prevented with better posture.