Types of Spasms: Understanding the Difference
Although it may be hard to imagine that there could be different types of spasms, the truth is that not all spasms are the same. A spasm is defined as being an involuntary and uncontrollable tensing of a muscle or group of muscles. A spasm could be anything from a twitch of the eye to a full jerk of the leg. Most of us have suffered from the occasional spasm that doesn’t disrupt daily life or even cause any real annoyance. But when spasms become violent or recurring, it could be a sign of a serious underlying condition. Let’s take a look at the different types of spasms and how they can be identified.
Cramps are one of the most common types of spasms that we are all due to experience at least a few times throughout life. Those who are very active, such as athletes, may experience cramps more often. A muscle cramp is an uncontrollable tightening of a single muscle, a group of muscles, or just a particular part of a muscle that lasts for an extended period of time. During a muscle cramp the affected area is literally hard to the touch and the tensed muscles can often be detected visually as well. Cramping muscles may or may not relax with persistent massaging of the muscles. Cramps can also occur in a short staccato nature where the cramp builds then dies off only to repeat the cycle several more times before finally going away. A muscle cramp can come on suddenly without any warning or it might be preceded by a dull ache that builds into a full-on cramp. A cramp can occur in almost any muscle but are primarily common in the legs, abdominal or stomach area, feet, and shoulders.
There are quite a few different causes behind muscle cramps. One such cause is overuse of the muscle(s) or intense activity. Muscle fatigue can lead to cramping that can occur during activity or as much as a few hours later. Cramps can also occur when the body hasn’t received enough water or if it has lost a great deal of fluid in a short time. Another common cause behind muscle cramping is a lack of calcium, magnesium, or potassium. These nutrients are essential in order for the muscles in the body to be properly maintained and used. It is also possible for lack of activity or maintaining an awkward position for a long period of time to lead to muscle cramps. Lou Gehrig’s disease could be a concern if muscle cramps occur often in addition to other symptoms such as trouble breathing and swallowing, general muscle weakness, muscle loss, speech issues, or, in advanced stages, paralysis.
A muscle twitch is a minor involuntary contraction of muscles that doesn’t last for very long. The initial twitch or “tick” is quick and usually doesn’t give any warning signs before onset. In most cases, a muscle twitch only lasts a matter of seconds; however they can be very annoying because they tend to create a pattern of repetition. Most twitches are so minor that they are easily overlooked or go unnoticed altogether. In most cases, a muscle twitch occurs as a result of stress or anxiety, especially those that affect the eyelids, thumbs, and calves. Minor twitches can also be caused excessive consumption of caffeine and a lack of minerals or vitamins in one’s diet. Twitching can also be the result of certain medications—especially diuretics.
There are some circumstances in which these types of spasms could be a sign of a serious condition. For instance, some neurological conditions, such as trauma to the central nervous system, cause recurring or random twitches to occur. Severe twitching and numbness or paralysis of one side of the body could be a sign of a stroke and is considered a medical emergency.
Convulsions are much more violent and severe in nature and are characterized by intense tightening of muscles that occurs so rapidly that it looks as though the limb or body part is shaking. The act is completely uncontrollable and is often associated with seizures; however convulsions can occur outside of an epileptic episode and not all seizures produce convulsions. If you can picture in your head what a body looks like when it undergoes an electric shock, such as resuscitation with a defibrillator, this is similar to what goes on during a convulsion.
As mentioned earlier, convulsions are a well known accompaniment to a seizure but they can also be caused by a fever (hot/cold chills), low blood sugar, meningitis, a brain injury, and a stroke. Typical convulsions tend to last from 30 seconds to two minutes although it is possible for a convulsive fit to last much longer. In general, convulsions do not harm the person who experiences them provided that the convulsions are short-lived. If convulsions last longer than 15 minutes or if a person experiences convulsions close together and seem to be unconscious between each episode, then it probably a good idea to get them to the doctor as this could be a sign of epilepsy. Long lasting convulsions can also make it difficult for the sufferer to breathe which puts them at risk of oxygen deficiency.
These are the primary types of spasms that one might experience. In most cases, a spasm is not related to a serious condition, even though it may be a very uncomfortable thing to experience.