Muscle Pain and Spasms
Almost everyone has experienced sore muscles or muscle spasms at some stage. While many cases of muscle pain and spasm resolve themselves, sometimes they can linger for a while, and you may need further medical management.
Ongoing muscle problems can limit your movement and can impact your work, social life and your relationships.
What is muscle pain?
The medical term for muscle pain is myalgia. Because there are so many muscles in our body, myalgia can occur anywhere. Muscle pain can be localised or widespread and often feels worse with movement. Pain can feel like aching, general stiffness, or sometimes a burning pain. The most commonly affected areas are the back and legs. Pain can range from mild to excruciating and can be accompanied by tenderness, swelling and redness. Myalgia can be acute (sudden onset and lasting less than 3 months), or chronic (lasting longer than three months).
Sometimes muscle pain can cause other types of pain. For example, muscle pain in your neck can lead to headaches.
Causes of muscle pain
Myalgia is usually caused by overuse of muscles during physical activity, tension and stress, and minor injuries. Pain related to these causes is usually localised, affecting only a few muscles or a certain part of the body.
However, muscle pain can also affect larger areas of the body and can be due to a range of medical reasons, including:
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- myofascial pain syndrome
- bacterial or viral infections (e.g. Lyme disease, flu, polio)
- autoimmune disorders (e.g. Lupus)
- thyroid problems
- side effects of medications or drugs
- low potassium (hypokalemia)
Muscle spasms can also cause pain.
What are muscle spasms?
Muscle spasms — also known as muscle cramps — occur when a muscle contracts involuntarily and can’t relax. These contractions are very common and can happen anywhere in the body, usually coming on suddenly. The most common areas for muscle spasms are the thighs, calves, arches of the feet, hands, arms and abdomen.
Pain related to muscle spasms can range from mild to severe and can last anywhere from a few seconds to 15 minutes or longer. Muscle spasms can be accompanied by muscle tightness, joint stiffness, involuntary movements such as twitching, unusual posture, speaking difficulties1 and limited range of motion. Sometimes the spasm occurs multiple times in a short period of time.
Causes of muscle spasms
Muscle spasms can be caused by a number of factors. Cramps that occur during physical activity are often caused by insufficient stretching, muscle fatigue/overuse, or exercising in high temperatures1. In high temperatures, the body is more likely to become dehydrated and lose vital electrolytes (e.g. potassium, magnesium, sodium and calcium). This can cause cramping.
Changing positions or sudden movement in your muscles can also trigger a spasm, as can stress, or tight-fitting clothing.
Muscle spasms can also be linked to muscle injury or medical conditions such as:
- low blood supply, especially to legs and feet
- nerve damage caused by underlying conditions (e.g. spinal cord or brain injury, stroke, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis)
- kidney failure
- alcohol use disorder
- low thyroid (hypothyroidism)
Treatment and management of muscle pain and muscle spasms
Sometimes muscle pain and spasms resolve themselves. Other times, home treatment can provide relief. Things that you can try include:
- resting the muscles that are aching, especially if the pain is related to overuse or physical activity
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
- applying ice to the affected area to relieve inflammation
- gently stretching your muscles
- stress relief techniques in order to reduce tension
- ensuring you stretch, warm up, and cool down properly before and after exercise
- avoiding extremes in temperatures and staying hydrated in warm environments
- prescription medications
If muscle pain occurs during physical activity, it may be a sign that you have ‘pulled’ or strained a muscle. You should stop whatever you’re doing immediately, and seek medical advice.
In the case of muscle spasms, try gently stretching and massaging the muscle or holding it in a stretched position until the spasm stops. You could also try icing the area, or applying heat from a heating pad or warm towel.
When should I see a doctor?
You can usually manage and treat muscle pain from minor injuries, stress or exercise with home treatments. The same applies for muscle spasms. However, there are some situations where you should visit your doctor. These include:
- muscle pain related to a serious injury
- pain that persists or gets worse, even with home treatments
- muscle pain that accompanies a rash or swelling
- muscle pain, especially in your calves, that occurs with exercise and improves with rest
- muscle pain that occurs after a tick bite
- pain or spasms that occur after taking a new medication, or increasing the dosage of a current medication
- pain or spasms that accompany weakness or loss of sensation
- muscle spasms that occur frequently, are severe, persist for a long time, or respond poorly to home treatment
- muscle pain or spasms that occur without a clear cause
You should seek immediate medical care if you experience muscle pain and:
- trouble breathing
- extreme muscle weakness
- a high fever and stiff neck
How TerryWhite Chemmart can help
If you’re experiencing joint pain, we are here to help. Speak to your local TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacist about your symptoms so we can recommend the products that may be right for you, to help relieve pain and inflammation.
If you’ve been using medication to manage your chronic pain with little success or are using pain medication alongside other medication, book a Pain Medication Review with one of our pharmacists. They can assess medication you’re currently taking, and make recommendations based on what may be best for you.
Book a Pain Medication Review today by calling your local TerryWhite Chemmart or book online.
General advice only – this information should not replace the information provided to you by your health care professional. If symptoms are severe or persist, please speak to your health care professional. Information current as of date of publishing.