09 Mar Muscle Spasm, Muscle Cramp, Muscle Strain? What’s the Difference?? It Hurts!
Yes they all do, so this is what you need to know
Muscle pain can come from a variety of sources including spasm, cramp, or an actual strain or tear of the muscle. Muscle spasm occurs when a muscle involuntarily contracts, and then relaxes. This often occurs suddenly and can be painful. A muscle cramp is similar to a spasm, but cramp lasts longer than a spasm and is often a very forcible contraction. While there are a myriad of potential causes for involuntary muscle contraction; spasms and cramps are commonly thought to be due to muscle overuse, dehydration, or an electrolyte imbalance. If a muscle cramp is sufficiently forcible, it can lead to actual tears in some of the muscles fibers. This is called a muscle strain. Strains are not always precipitated by a cramp. They can be caused by a variety of mechanisms including jumping, changing directions, slipping, or even due to overuse from simple repetitive actions such as walking.
How do I know which I have?
A muscle spasm will usually relax on it’s own quite quickly. Cramps can last much longer, but often eventually relax with a bit of gentle massage or stretching. Muscle strains generally affect the way the muscle functions, and will likely cause pain each time the muscle is actively used.
What do I do about each of them?
Most muscle spasms and many cramps settle on their own and do not interfere with normal muscle function. With muscle strains, the muscle itself has been damaged and needs time to rest and heal. Spasms, cramps, or strains may be a warning sign that you are overusing your muscles, using your muscles incorrectly, or perhaps you are not properly hydrated, so you may need to address these potential issues.
When do I need expert advice and treatment and how soon should I get it?
You should seek expert care if you have had a severe cramp or muscle strain which limits your ability to walk normally or if you are unable to use any of your muscles to perform your normal daily activities without pain. Swelling or any bruising in the muscles or an inability to bear weight should be discussed with your GP or seen to by an expert. Calf pain should be treated with extreme caution as it can be the result of a blood clot, in which case massage and or stretching could cause the clot to dislodge and travel to your heart which could be life threatening. Your GP would be able to assess whether you may be at risk for a blood clot.
– written by Rebeca Chartered Physiotherapist at the clinic