Techniques to Reduce Muscle Spasms

Our guest blogger this week is Christie Seidl, a massage therapy student from The Body Therapy Center and School of Massage in Swansea, Illinois.  Christie will obtain her MBLEx certification this August, and currently has her ASCP MLT certification and an associates degree in laboratory science.

For people with ALS, muscle spasms are a common and sometimes painful occurrence. Spasms and cramps are characterized by a sudden, involuntary contraction of muscles, and are the result of the ongoing disruption of signals from the nerves to the muscles that occurs in ALS.   There are four simple techniques you can use to help alleviate the pain and help stop the spasm.

The first method to try is compression. The easiest way to do this is to use one or two hands to compress and hold pressure to the active spasm. You can do this yourself or a caregiver can do this for you. Another way is to use compression bandages or sleeves during the active spasm.

A second method is light stretching. Gently stretch the muscle but do not over stretch or vigorously stretch the muscle. This can make the spasm worse.

The third method to try is the use of hot and cold contrast treatment. This contrast is achieved by using either hot and cold compresses or hot and cold baths. A cold compress for example is an ice pack and a hot compress is a microwaveable rice pack. An example of a cold bath is cold water with ice and a warm bath would be with hot water but do not burn yourself. When using a bath you want to be able to submerge the entire muscle. This method always starts and end using the cold method of choice. Start by leaving the cold pack on for 10 mins and then switch to the hot pack or water for 10 mins. Then rotate cold and hot method three times and end with one more cold application.

The last but most effective option is a little more difficult. This fourth method is called reciprocal inhibition. “When an agonist contracts, in order to cause the desired motion, it usually forces the antagonists to relax. This phenomenon is called reciprocal inhibition because the antagonists are inhibited from contracting.”(Appleton, 1996) This is accomplished by activating the antagonist muscle.  An antagonist muscle is a muscle that does the opposite job or function of the muscle that is having the spasm. For example: if you have a spasm in your biceps, the antagonist would be the triceps.  If you have a spasm in the calf (gastroc or soleus) the antagonist would be the front of your leg (tibialis anterior) or hamstrings and quads.

Now, the way to activate the antagonist is to put pressure or resistance up against that muscle and press against it. For example: if you have a muscle spasm in you calf, put pressure or resistance against your shin and use the muscles in your leg to press against it. I do this by using my hand against my shin or the front of my leg against a wall with my knee bent and try to straighten my leg.



The reason this last method works is because the antagonist and the muscle with the spasm cannot work at the same time. Therefore; when you make that opposite muscle work the spasm must relax.

Muscle spasms are not a comfortable thing to live with but there are ways to help shorten the length of the spasm and help alleviate the pain. Always consult a physician if the spasms become worse or more frequent.  I hope these techniques help and know that you are not alone.

Appleton, B. (1996, January 09). STRETCHING AND FLEXIBILITY Everything you never wanted to know. Retrieved May 30, 2018, from

*A recent study led by Dr. Bjorn Oskarsson from the Mayo Clinic Jacksonville and supported by The ALS Association demonstrated that mexiletine, a drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, reduced the frequency and severity of muscle cramps. Ask your healthcare provider for more information.

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