Muscle Spasms: What Do They Mean and Should I Be Worried?

Muscle Spasms: What Do They Mean and Should I Be Worried?

Occasional muscle spasms are normal, but here’s how to tell if your muscle spasms may be something more.

Most people have experienced a muscle spasm at one time or another in their lives. Have you ever noticed that sometimes, as you’re trying to go to sleep and just about to drift off, your entire body will suddenly twitch uncontrollably? Well, that unexpected wake-up call is actually a muscle spasm. 

Muscle spasms can occur as a result of a lot of different things, from being tired to stress to certain medical conditions. In many cases, occasional muscle spasms are nothing to be concerned about, but read on for more information about when your muscle spasms might warrant a check-up with your doctor.  

What is a Muscle Spasm?  

As the North American Spine Society explains, a muscle spasm is an involuntary contraction of a muscle or muscle group anywhere in the body. Muscle spasms can range from the small muscles—like when your eyelid won’t stop twitching—to larger muscles, like that charley horse in your leg when you flex it the wrong way.

Muscle spasms can be contained to just within the muscle, or they can be powerful enough that they involve the skeletal system too. For example, if a muscle in your back spasms, you can injure your spine too. No matter how large or how small they are, muscle spasms can be quite painful and even when they go away, may leave soreness or injury behind. Muscle spasms can even occur internally, such as with an overactive bladder, which can involve the muscles of the bladder spasming spontaneously and causing leakage. 

What Can Cause a Muscle Spasm? 

There are many different things that can cause a muscle spasm. Most of these causes are not serious, although they may require some action on your part to prevent them from happening again (and to correct any injury or pain that resulted). Some of the factors that may lead to a muscle spasm include: 

  • Medication. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), albuterol (usually found in inhalers for people with asthma), and the stimulant Adderall can all cause muscle spasms. 

  • Caffeine. Excess caffeine can lead to muscle “twitching,” such as an eyelid twitch, or even twitches in the muscles of the hand. 

  • Stress and fatigue. Stress and exhaustion are two major culprits for muscle spasms, whether it’s because you’re not sleeping enough or if your muscles are actually fatigued from exertion. 

  • Overuse of a muscle. Anything from strenuous exercise, to holding a position for a long time, or even performing manual labor can over-exert your muscles and lead to a spasm. 

  • Electrolyte imbalances. If you’ve ever been told to eat a banana because you’re having a muscle cramp, it’s because having low potassium—along with other key vitamins and minerals like calcium and sodium—can cause spasms to occur. 

  • Dehydration. Along with the right amount of electrolytes, your muscles need adequate hydration to work properly. 

  • Improper body mechanics. You may be at risk for muscle spasms in the back if you’re doing a lot of lifting, bending, twisting, or holding your body in unnatural positions, such as leaning backwards. 

  • Pregnancy and childbirth. Pregnancy can lead to muscle cramping, especially in the legs, and after giving birth, a weakened core may make you more prone to back spasms as you do things like lift, bend, and twist. 

  • Underlying physical problems. Spinal conditions, such as degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, or a herniated disc can all lead a muscle spasm in your back. It’s especially important to seek medical attention for back spasms so you can correct the problem and not just hope it will heal on its own.  

Rarely, muscle spasms can be the result of a more serious neurological condition. In those cases, however, the muscle spasms that accompany a serious disorder are often repetitive, larger-scale, and accompanied by other serious muscular symptoms, such as weakness, trouble walking, or numbness and tingling. 

When Should You See a Doctor About Muscle Spasms? 

You should see a doctor for muscle spasms if you encounter any of the following situations:

  • Any muscle spasms that are occurring regularly

  • Muscle spasms that are not resolving on their own with rest, hydration, and proper nutrition

  • Any pain or injury that you have as a result of a muscle spasm, especially back spasms

  • Any other symptoms you are experiencing with your muscle spasms, such as weakness, loss of balance, or mental changes

  • The muscle spasm is accompanied by swelling, redness, or any discoloration in the skin  

It’s also very important to see your doctor promptly if you experience any amount of pain or injury as a result of a muscle spasm in your back, to ensure that they can determine the cause, minimize the injury, and allow healing to take place correctly.

If you have a muscle spasm that is a result of a herniated disc that is out of place, for example, simply resting won’t be enough to “fix” the spasms and you may be at risk of future injury. You will need to consult with a specialist who can help correct the problem that is causing the back spasms in the first place. 

Occasional muscle spasms can be a normal part of life, but just remember that if they are happening regularly or causing you any pain, you should schedule an appointment with a Southwest Spine and Pain provider for further assessment.   

If chronic pain is keeping you from doing the things you want, it’s time to schedule an appointment at Southwest Spine and Pain Center. With multiple locations across the state of Utah, the pain management specialists at Southwest Spine and Pain Center are dedicated to helping those who suffer from chronic pain live the life they want to. To schedule an appointment, visit our locations tab!

The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.