Muscle cramps and spasms often appear suddenly. There is a sudden rapid contraction that leaves you immobile, and in most cases there is no apparent cause or if there is, a very insignificant one. Most people would not even recollect there being a reason for such a sudden and severe stab of pain. However, a person who gets frequent cramps in any particular part of the body may actually be affected by some yet undiagnosed neurological or even muscular disease.
Causes of Muscle Spasm Pain and Cramps
Cramps often manifest themselves as the slowing down of the muscle's ability to relax, and sometimes spontaneous contractions of even a relaxed muscle. To understand why and how muscle cramps occur, we need to know how muscles move. This happens when electrical signals are sent from the brain through the spinal cord to the nerve endings distributed through the body. These nerve cells are called motor neurons.
The set of motor neurons that lead out from the spinal cord to the muscle are called the lower motor neurons. When a signal to move comes in, they release chemicals to stimulate the internal release of calcium ions stored in the muscle, which in turn reacts with muscle protein, causing movement. When the fixed ends of these muscles pull closer, the cells shortens and the calcium ions are recaptured, thereby easing the movement and causing the muscle fibers to relax.
Any break in this process or any kind of abnormal activity at any point may cause abnormal situations like absence of relaxation in a muscle. This could be anything from damaged nerve pathways to more serious diseases like multiple sclerosis, or cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, or even some external influences like insecticides.
It may also be due to something as banal as the inability of the muscle to recapture the calcium ion, and can lead to prolonged muscle cramps. This is what happens when one undertakes heavy exercise after a heavy meal, when blood flow is directed towards the stomach, leaving the muscles with less energy. Another cause could be dehydration or lack of salt intake, which can be taken care of by drinking enough fluids containing the essential salts.
Most muscle cramps are not very serious affairs and can be dealt with some mild stretching and massaging. In more severe cases, drinking plenty of fluids helps to loosen the muscle, with salt replacement in fluid form. If drugs are to be used, the most popular ones are carbamazepine, phenytoin, or quinine. Furthermore, if muscle spasms are happening due to some underlying physiological problem, the treatment will be aimed at the disease.
Effects of Muscle Relaxers
In most cases, these relaxers are prescribed in addition to therapy or exercise, or both. It is important to bear in mind that the muscles will take a while to come back to their relaxed position, so just because a drug helps stop the pain, do not get back into normal activity levels. This may just relapse the process of relaxing the muscle.
Muscle relaxers are recommended for a muscular spasm or cramp only if the underlying reason is an injury. They may not be very useful for cramps due to other more physiological reasons. When this is the case, one may feel lightheaded, dizzy, or drowsy, and even experience blurred vision. That is why driving or doing jobs that require precision operations like machinery operating, should be avoided after taking a muscle relaxant drug.
There are a few other precautions to be followed before taking muscle relaxant drugs - diabetics should know that certain drugs like Skelaxin may induce false tests results for sugar in urine tests. People affected by epilepsy should be warned that the administration of a muscle relaxant drug may increase the likelihood of a seizure. In addition, certain muscle relaxants may not agree with certain medical conditions like a kidney disorder, thyroid problem, hepatitis, or any liver disease, if a person has a history of glaucoma or problems in urination, or has been in drug abuse at some time, and even breast feeding mothers - need to watch out.
More towards a drug-free therapy, some good muscle relaxers are Ginkgo (from the maidenhair tree) and Japanese quince. In many cases supplements of multivitamins and B-complexes also help. It is a good idea to take a supplement of vitamin E or calcium just before bedtime, to combat night cramps.
Preventing Muscle cramps
As always, it is better to have a healthy lifestyle in terms of a nutritious diet and adequate exercise, much before any medicines can be taken for muscle spasms and cramps. A diet rich in minerals and appropriately balanced in terms of heating foods will help avoid heat cramps. Night cramps can also be reduced by taking a relaxing massage or warm bath just before bedtime.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.