A spasm or cramp is an involuntary contraction of a voluntary/skeletal muscle. Spasms and cramps are essentially the same thing, though often massage therapists and clients will describe a prolonged cramp as “being in spasm.”
What Causes a Spasm or Cramp?
- Exercise can be a common cause, especially near the end of a vigorous workout.
- Calcium and magnesium deficiencies can make you prone to cramping, especially in your feet.
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Ischemia (lack of blood flow). When a muscle is deprived of oxygen it can’t function properly and it becomes contracted. This is often a gradual process, but can sometimes be sudden and violent.
- If blood is not properly flowing to a muscle, waste products are not flowing out of the muscle. This buildup of toxins can prolong the spasm.
- During pregnancy, the fetus may lie on the femoral artery where it branches from the abdomen. This can cause violent cramps in the lower leg. Regular prenatal massages can help improve the flow of blood to the legs and flush toxins from achy muscles.
- Medical conditions, such as atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, and congestive heart failure can also diminish the flow of blood to the muscles in your extremities, leading to painful cramps.
- Splinting: the muscular response around an injury to protect the body from further damage. This is often seen with whiplash and broken bones or sprains.
Spasms, Cramps, and Massage
Massage is recommended for ischemic or exercise-related cramps as long as there are no other conditions that are contraindicated. Muscles that are in active spasm should be stretched and focus should be made on surrounding muscles to avoid inflammation.
Massage may not be appropriate in splinting cases until the underlying injury has been evaluated and treated by a doctor. For example, if the muscles of the neck are splinting due to whiplash, you should wait to get a massage until the tendons and ligaments have had an opportunity to heal.
The best modalities (type of massages) for spasms and cramps include:
- PNF stretching
- Deep Tissue within pain tolerance.
It is very important to break the pain/spasm cycle by intervening with a massage.
Frequent cramping and spasms in the same muscles may indicate an underlying skeletal abnormality and should be evaluated by a physician or chiropractor. During our mobile massage session, I can refer you to other Kansas City care providers if I suspect any serious medical or skeletal conditions.