If you’ve ever experienced a muscle spasm you will know it can be extremely painful. In some cases, a muscle may spasm in such a forceful manner that it results in a bruise on the skin! 1

Muscle spasms occur when one or more of your muscles involuntary and forcibly contracts and cannot relax. These are very common and can affect any muscle in your body. Typically, they involve part or all of a muscle, or several muscles within a group. 2
The most common sites for muscle spasms are the thighs, calves, foot arches, hands, arms, abdomen and sometimes along the ribcage. 2

5 Factors that may contribute to muscle spasms: 1

  1. Dehydration
  2. Depletion of certain salts and minerals (electrolytes)
  3. Muscle fatigue
  4. Doing a new activity
  5. Extreme heat

Muscle spasms can occur at any time to anyone. Whether you are old, young, sedentary or active. It can happen when you walk, sit, perform any exercise, or even when you sleep. Some people are prone to muscle spasms and get them regularly with any physical exertion. However, those who are at greater risk for muscle spasms are:

  • Infants,
  • The elderly (over age 65),
  • People who overexert during exercise,
  • Those who are ill,
  • Endurance athletes. 2

Besides the sudden, sharp pain, you might also feel or see a hard lump of muscle tissue beneath your skin. A more serious muscle spasm doesn’t release on it’s own and may require manual stretching to help relax and lengthen the shortened muscle.1,3

Factors that may cause muscle spasms 3

There are some factors that can trigger the onset of a muscle spasm, some of these factors are the overuse of a muscle, dehydration, muscle strain or simply holding a position for a prolonged period of time, can cause a muscle spasm. In many cases, however, the cause isn’t known.

Although most muscle spasms are harmless, some may be related to an underlying medical

condition. Here are 3 possible medical causes:

  • Mineral depletion
    • Too little potassium (salt), calcium or magnesium in your diet can contribute to leg cramps
  • Inadequate blood supply
    • Narrowing of the arteries that deliver blood to your legs can produce cramp-like pain in your legs and feet while you’re exercising. These cramps usually go away soon after you stop exercising
  • Nerve compression
    • Compression of nerves in your spine also can produce cramp-like pain in your legs. The pain usually worsens the longer you walk. Walking in a slightly flexed position — such as you would use when pushing a shopping cart ahead of you — may improve or delay the onset of your symptoms

Muscle spasms can also occur as a side effect of some drugs. The list below contains some medications that may cause muscle cramps: 4

  • Certain diuretics (“water pills”) that remove fluid from the body e.g. furosemide
  • Donepezil that are used to treat Alzheimer’s disease
  • Nifedipine, a treatment for high blood pressure
  • Raloxifene, an osteoporosis treatment
  • Some asthma medications e.g. salbutamol
  • Statin medications for cholesterol, such as atorvastatin

Factors that might increase your risk of muscle spasms include3

  1. Age – Older people lose muscle mass, so the remaining muscle can get overstressed more easily.
  1. Dehydration – Athletes who become fatigued and dehydrated while participating in warm weather sports frequently develop muscle cramps.
  1. Pregnancy – Muscle cramps also are common during pregnancy.
  1. Medical conditions – You might be at higher risk of muscle cramps if you have diabetes, or nerve, liver or thyroid disorders.

Treatment options for a muscle spasm 1,5

Here are some of the tips most recommended by experts:

  • Stop the activity that caused the cramp
  • Gently stretch and massage the cramping muscle
  • Hold the joint in a stretched position until the cramp stops

Certain over-the-counter medications may be used to treat aches and pains associated with muscle spasms. For pain relief your healthcare professional may recommend or prescribe a NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug). They work by blocking your body from making certain substances that causes pain and inflammation. They are available in oral and topical forms like gels, e.g. orphenadrine.

Muscle cramps usually go away on their own without treatment.

4 Steps that may help prevent muscle spasms 

  1. Avoid dehydration. Drink plenty of liquids every day. 3
  2. Improve your fitness level to help avoid muscle fatigue.1
  3. Stretch regularly before and after exercise. 1
  4. Warm up before exercise. 1

When to see your doctor 3

See your doctor if your cramps:

  • Cause severe discomfort
  • Are associated with leg swelling, redness or skin changes
  • Are associated with muscle weakness
  • Happen frequently
  • Don’t improve with self-care
  • Aren’t associated with an obvious cause, such as strenuous exercise

Most muscle cramps are not serious, however if your muscle cramps are severe, frequent, constant or of concern, see your doctor. 1

DISCLAIMER: This editorial has been commissioned and brought to you by iNova Pharmaceuticals. Content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

Name and business address of the holder of the certificate of registration: iNova Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Ltd,. Co. Reg. No. 1952/001640/07, 15e Riley Road, Bedfordview. Tel. No. 011 087 0000. For further information, speak to your healthcare professional. Further information is available on request from iNova Pharmaceuticals. IN2991/19


    1. What Really Causes Muscle Spasms and Cramps? [online] May 2018 [cited February 2019]; Available from URL:
    2. Cleveland Clinic. Muscle Spasms. [online] June 2018 [cited February 2019]; Available from URL:
    3. Mayo Clinic. Muscle cramp. [online] January 2019 [cited February 2019]; Available from URL:
    4. Why Is My Leg Cramping? What Can Help? [online] March 2017 [cited February 2019]; Available from URL:
    5. Muscle Relaxers: A List of Prescription Medications. [online] June 2017 [cited April 2019]; Available from URL: 11/