Therapies... - Massage - Muscle Spasm / Cramp

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Muscle Spasm / Cramp

There are several reasons as to why a muscle may be in spasm. The spasm may be due to reflex muscle guarding, that is the muscle is in spasm because of a painful stimulus directly on/in the muscle and is splinting itself to prevent any further injury. If the source of pain is not the muscle in spasm, the spasm may be used to splint the injured tissue to prevent movement, and again, to prevent further injury. (Your therapist may not attempt to treat the spasm if it is splinting an acute injury as doing so may compromise stability of the joint or area involved.) If the source of pain is relatively far, the spasm could be an expression of referred pain. (Note: muscle spasm and trigger points are not the same thing -- refer to the section entitled "Trigger Points"). Improper warm-up/cool-down and lack of stretching before activity can also lead to spasm.

When an intrinsic muscle (i.e. Colon) goes into spasm, it may be in response to local circulatory changes or a nutritional deficiency. Thus, anything that can reduce nutritional supply and increase metabolic waste build up via local circulatory changes can cause a muscle spasm. Since muscles use calcium ions to contract, alterations in blood calcium levels can also lead to spasm. The sympathetic nervous system can influence muscle tone, therefore, patients that feel "stressed" are more likely to suffer from a muscle spasm (see "Stress Reduction/Relaxation").

Spasms are self-perpetuating. The contraction of a spasm causes a lack of blood supply in the area, which causes pain, which causes more muscle guarding or spasm, and so on. The therapist should try to break this cycle and reduce the spasm by decreasing pain, helping you to relax and improving local circulation. This may be done through relaxing massage strokes to decrease SNS firing. Ice massage might also be used to numb the pain and decrease SNS firing as well. Your therapist should also attend to any other problems that may arise because of the spasm, such as trigger points or decreased range of motion. Causative factors should be pinpointed to prevent any recurrences. Your therapist can help you identify them and come up with possible alternatives in posture, movement, etc., if they seem to be causing or propagating the spasm.