What Causes Muscle Spasms? Surprising Reasons Explained

A muscle spasm is a sudden, involuntary muscle movement. It’s also known as a charley horse, cramp, or twitch.1 These spasms can happen in any muscle but are common in the calf. They are often due to muscle overuse, fatigue, or pain.2 Stress or anxiety might cause twitches in the face. Spasms in the back can come from trapped nerves. Not warming up or working out in very hot weather can lead to spasms too.2 Dehydration before exercise is another key cause.2

Common triggers are stress, activity, or not drinking enough water. But, nerve issues and thyroid problems might make spasms more likely.1

Key Takeaways

  • Muscle spasms are very common and can affect various body parts, including the hands, feet, arms, thighs, abdomen, and intercostal muscles.
  • Certain groups, such as athletes, older adults, overweight or obese individuals, and pregnant women, are at a higher risk of experiencing muscle spasms.
  • Muscle spasms can be a sign of an underlying neurological health condition, such as multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, or liver cirrhosis.
  • Muscle spasms can range from slight twitches to painful cramps and often resolve on their own without treatment.
  • Overworked muscle fibers, dehydration, and lack of proper nutrition can contribute to the development of muscle spasms.

What Is a Muscle Spasm?

Muscle spasms can happen all over your body. They’re common in places like your hands, feet, and more.1 These spasms make your muscles move suddenly without you wanting them to.

Spasms can range from a simple twitch to a really painful cramp. They often affect the thighs, calves, and other body parts.3 When a muscle spasms, it tightens by itself.

Definition of Muscle Spasms

Spasms are when your muscles move suddenly and without you meaning them to. This movement can be a small twitch or a big painful cramp. It’s because your muscle is squeezing on its own.

Common Body Areas Affected

Spasms might happen in many places on your body. But they’re usually found in the hands, feet, and other areas.1 Thighs, calves, and more are often affected. These spasms mean the muscle is squeezing without you telling it to.

What Causes Muscle Spasms?

Overuse and Fatigue

Overuse and fatigue are main causes of muscle spasms. If you work your muscles too hard, they can spasm. This happens more when you’re tired.1

Athletes might get muscle spasms if they don’t warm up. Exercising in the heat can also trigger spasms.1


Lack of fluids and electrolytes causes dehydration. This can make muscles spasm. Dehydration leads to imbalanced electrolytes, upping the chance of spasms.3

Electrolyte Imbalance

Low potassium, calcium, or magnesium could cause spasms too. Not enough of these minerals can make your muscles cramp. This is more likely with heavy sweat, diarrhea, vomiting, or certain meds.3


Muscle spasms are quite common. They can hit any part of your body. Gently stretching or massaging the area often helps. So does applying heat or ice.1

Preventing these spasms includes drinking lots of water. It’s also important to stretch before you exercise or go to bed.1

muscle spasm

Older adults, athletes, and those overweight are at a higher risk for spasms. So are pregnant people. Nerve or thyroid problems can also increase the odds.1

Spasms feel like twitches or cramps and can last different lengths of time.1

Calf muscles are where you might usually feel a cramp. They can last a few seconds to a few minutes.4

Age, sweating a lot, being pregnant, or having certain medical problems can make cramps more likely.4

As you get older, less muscle can stress your muscles.4

Warm-weather sweating during sports can cause athletes to cramp.4

Cramps are also common in pregnancy or with certain health conditions.4

Risk Factors for Muscle Spasms

Some types of people are more likely to have muscle spasms. This includes older adults and athletes. Also, those overweight or pregnant can have them.

Older people’s muscles tend to get weaker, increasing spasms risk.4 Athletes are prone due to intense workouts, leading to muscle fatigue and dehydration.1 Being overweight changes how muscles work, causing more spasms.4 During pregnancy, muscle spasms are common, especially in the legs.5 This is because of weight changes, how fluids shift in the body, and pressure on nerves.4


As people grow older, they are more likely to experience muscle cramps. This is because they lose muscle mass.4

Athletic Activity

Not warming up before exercise or working out in heat increases the risk of spasms. Runners often get spasms in their calf muscles.1 Excessive sweat during sports in hot weather also makes athletes more prone.4

Overweight or Obesity

Being overweight heightens the risk of muscle cramps.4


Pregnant women often experience muscle cramps, with calf cramps being most common.4 In China, 32% of expecting mothers get calf cramps, the rates differ in each trimester.5 In the final trimester, 64.6% of Indian women dealt with calf cramps.5 Half of pregnant women worldwide suffer from muscle cramps in the last 3 months.5

Underlying Health Conditions

Muscle spasms could be a sign of a bigger health issue. This might be a nerve problem or an issue with your thyroid.1

Nerve problems affecting the brain, spinal cord, or nerves can make your muscles spasm. This happens when these disorders mess up how your muscles work. This can relate to various conditions – such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and pinched nerves. These conditions might lead to muscle spasms.

Issues with your thyroid, like having too little or too much thyroid hormone, can also cause muscle spasms. They do this by messing with your body’s electrolyte balance and muscle work.1

Nerve Disorders

Problems with nerves in the brain, spinal cord, or elsewhere can cause muscle spasms.1

This includes conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and pinched nerves. These issues might lead to muscle spasms.1

Thyroid Problems

Thyroid problems can also cause muscle spasms. This happens when your thyroid is not working right. It affects your body’s electrolyte balance and how your muscles work.1

underlying causes of muscle spasms

Symptoms of Muscle Spasms

Muscle spasms can show up in many ways, from quick twitches to painful cramps.1 You might get a small, sudden twitch in your muscle. It can vanish fast, sometimes in just a few seconds.1 Or, it might feel really bad, like a strong cramp. Your muscle goes hard, and moving might be too painful.1 This painful cramp can last minutes before it eases.

Brief Twitching

At times, muscle spasms just lead to a quick twitch or movement.1 These twitchings fade fast, sometimes in just seconds, and don’t usually hurt much.

Painful Cramping

Other times, muscle spasms lead to a really strong cramp.1 The muscle feels like a rock, and you might not be able to move that part because it hurts so much.1 It’s a sharp pain that can stick around for minutes before getting better.

Treating Muscle Spasms

Muscle spasms often go away without any special treatment. But there are ways to make them feel better. Resting the muscle and staying hydrated by drinking water helps with cramps caused by not enough water. Gentle massage and stretching can also calm the spasm down.1

Rest and Hydration

It’s important to give the muscle some rest and keep hydrated to fight off spasms. Not drinking enough water can make cramps worse. Hydration needs are different for everyone, including men and women.6 Pregnant and breastfeeding women also have specific water intake needs.6

Massage and Stretching

Massaging the tight muscle softly helps it relax. It also gets more blood to that area. Stretching it gently can relieve the pull and pain.1 These ways are good for handling and shortening a spasm’s time.

Heat and Cold Therapy

Using a heating pad can lessen muscle tightness and make you feel better. A cold pack helps calm down after the muscle spasms.1 These at-home methods are effective for dealing with spasm moments.

muscle spasm treatment

Preventing Muscle Spasms

To avoid muscle spasms, taking preventive measures is key. Drink lots of water before, during, and after working out. This is vital because lack of water often causes muscle spasms.1

Stretching and Warm-up

Before exercising, make sure to stretch and warm up properly. This will ready your muscles and keep them from getting too tired.1

Adequate Rest

It’s crucial to get enough rest between workout sessions. This helps prevent muscles from getting too worn out.1

When to See a Doctor

Muscle spasms often go away without worry. But, if you have them a lot or they are bad, see a doctor.7 Especially if they come with other issues. Spasms that hurt a lot or are part of a bigger health problem need a check-up.

If muscle pain makes it hard to breathe or you feel dizzy, get help now.7 Also, for muscle weakness that stops your daily life, or if you have a fever and a stiff neck. For serious accidents with bleeding that make moving tough, don’t wait to see a doctor.7 It’s also important to check in with a healthcare provider if you have muscle pain after a tick bite, a rash like Lyme disease’s bulls-eye, or muscle pain that goes away with rest. Signs of infection around sore muscles, pain due to certain drugs, or if the pain just won’t go away, a doctor’s visit is needed.7

If your muscles hurt during activity, you might have pulled a muscle. You can help it by resting and using ice.7 You can also try pain creams, patches, and over-the-counter medicines. For severe pain or advice on stretching, ask a healthcare provider.7

Research shows that muscle pain can be complex. It can link to conditions from COVID-19 to heart disease.7 This info comes from trusted medical sites and expert advice.7

What Causes Muscle Spasms?

There are many reasons why muscle spasms happen. Working muscles too much, not eating right, and lack of rest are big factors.3 Doing too much or using the same muscles a lot can make them tired. This makes spasms more likely.3 Not eating enough of the important stuff, like electrolytes and minerals, messes up how muscles work. This can lead to spasms.3 Also, if muscles don’t have enough time to rest between activities, they can start to spasm.3

Overworking Muscle Groups

Using the same muscles too often makes them tired and spasm.3 Athletes who skip warm-ups or exercise in very hot weather might get spasms.1 People who work out a lot might also have more spasms.1

Lack of Proper Nutrition

Not eating enough key nutrients can cause muscle spasms.3 Losing important minerals like potassium and magnesium through sweat can also do this. It happens with heavy exercise, medications, or illnesses.3 A diet lacking in these minerals can cause leg cramps.4

Insufficient Rest Days

Muscles need time to recover. If they don’t, they might start to spasm.3 Things like pushing yourself too hard, a lot of stress, dehydration, or staying in one position for too long can also cause cramps and spasms.4

muscle spasm causes

Curbing Muscle Spasms

There are many ways to prevent and stop muscle spasms.2 Foam rolling is a fantastic method. It involves massaging your own muscles with a special foam roller. This can lower how often muscle spasms happen and their strength.2

Cupping therapy is another helpful technique. This ancient method uses suction to massage deeply. It boosts blood flow and decreases muscle tightness, easing spasms.2

Also, trigger point release can work wonders. This massage technique finds and treats tight spots in muscles. It helps lessen spasms and the pain they bring.2

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is great for treating muscle spasms. It’s a type of self-massage. By kneading and rolling on your muscles, you can undo tension and get more flexible. This way, you might not get spasms as much.


Cupping Therapy

Cupping therapy, from ancient China, works well against muscle spasms. It pulls on the skin, which pumps more blood to the area. This release of tension can stop spasms from happening.


Trigger Point Release

Trigger point release targets the knots causing muscle spasms. By pressuring these spots, spasms can be lessened. This often means less pain and discomfort too.


Medications and Muscle Spasms

If muscle spasms keep happening or link to a nerve issue, your doctor might suggest medication. Antispasmodic meds are aimed at calming muscles and cutting down on sudden muscle movements3. They really help handle harsh or often-recurring muscle spasms that are part of a larger health problem, like a nerve or thyroid issue.

Drugs such as carisoprodol and diazepam work as muscle relaxants, but they can be hard to stop taking and cause withdrawal effects if you stop suddenly8. Before needing these, doctors usually say to try things like NSAIDs and acetaminophen8. But, even these simpler options can bring side effects like an unhappy stomach and feeling dizzy8.

Some results suggest that parts of marijuana, including THC, might also help relax muscles. Yet, checking its medical use is not common because rules in many places slow down research8.

Medication TypePotential BenefitsPotential Side Effects
Antispasmodic MedicationsHelp relax muscles and reduce involuntary contractionsCan be habit-forming and cause withdrawal symptoms if discontinued abruptly
Muscle Relaxants (e.g., carisoprodol, diazepam)Relax muscles and alleviate spasmsHabit-forming and may cause withdrawal symptoms
NSAIDsBlock substances causing inflammation and painCan lead to an upset stomach and dizziness
AcetaminophenHelps relieve pain and discomfortMay cause nausea and an upset stomach
Cannabis Compounds (e.g., THC)Potential muscle relaxant propertiesResearch limited due to regulatory restrictions

It’s key to talk with a healthcare provider to find what the best meds are for you. They’ll weigh the cause, how bad they are, and your personal health details to pick the right step.

Importance of Hydration

Proper hydration is key in preventing and dealing with muscle spasms.9 Dehydration often causes these spasms. About 67% of triathletes get muscle cramps during or after their events, and 18% to 70% of marathoners or cyclists also face this issue.9 Keeping good hydration levels reduces this risk.

Pre-Exercise Hydration

Drinking around 20 ounces of water two hours before activity is good advice.9 It preps the body for exercise, helping prevent muscle spasms.

During Exercise Hydration

While exercising, it’s vital to drink 8 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes.9 This routine cuts down the chance of getting cramps, even for those who work out about 3.3 days weekly.9

Post-Exercise Rehydration

After sports, rehydrate by drinking 16 to 24 ounces of water for every pound lost during the exercise.9 This fills back up the fluids and electrolytes lost, which lowers the muscle spasm risk.9

Fueling Up for Exercise

Drinking enough water is key, but eating right is also important to avoid muscle spasms.2 Eat a mix of lean protein, complex carbs, and good fats 1-2 hours before working out. This gives you energy and helps your muscles work better.2 For example, try oatmeal with fruit and nuts, toast with peanut butter, or yogurt with berries. Having the right food in your system can cut down on muscle tiredness and cramps while you’re active.2

Balanced Meal Options

You can stop muscle spasms by eating meals that mix protein, carbs, and fats. Good choices are oats, bananas, nuts, peanut butter, yogurt, and berries.2 Eating these before you work out makes sure your body has the energy it needs. This way, you can exercise without your muscles acting up.

Muscle Spasms in Athletes

Athletes often get muscle spasms because their bodies work hard.10 A study showed 2600 athletes got cramps.10 Marathon runners studied also showed muscle cramps are common.10 Athletes’ calves, abdomen, and arms often get spasms.

Unproven Tricks for Prevention

To stop muscle spasms, athletes do things like drink Pedialyte or eat bananas.10 Studies look at how hydration and electrolytes affect muscle cramps.10 Drinking enough after being dehydrated was found to lower the chance of cramps. But, the unproven methods don’t always work well against muscle spasms.10


Muscle spasms are common and can be uncomfortable, even if not serious.11 The reasons for them vary. They range from overworking the muscles to not drinking enough water, and from nerve issues to problems with the thyroid. It’s key to know these causes to stop or handle the muscle spasms well. One can lower the chances of getting spasms by drinking enough water, stretching the right way, and making sure to rest enough.511

Usually, the spasms will go away by themselves. But if they’re strong or last long, it might be time to see a doctor. In these cases, the doctor could advise using certain medications. Eating a balanced diet and managing any health issues can also make spasms happen less often and not be as bad when they do.11

To sum things up, it’s crucial to really understand muscle spasms. Knowing their causes helps with preventing them. Seeking help when needed is also important. This way, you can lower the impact of spasms. And keep your muscles in good shape, avoiding problems in the long run.11


What is a muscle spasm?

A muscle spasm is when a muscle moves or tightens on its own. It happens without you controlling it. This can be just a small movement or a very strong, painful tightening.

What are the common body areas affected by muscle spasms?

Muscle spasms can happen anywhere in your body. Yet, they often affect your calf, hands, feet, arms, thighs, and stomach. They also happen in the muscles around your ribs.

What causes muscle spasms?

Overusing a muscle or being tired can cause muscle spasms. They can also be due to not drinking enough water. Problems with minerals like potassium, calcium, or magnesium may also lead to spasms.

Who is more prone to experiencing muscle spasms?

Older adults, athletes, overweight or obese people, and expectant mothers are more likely to get muscle spasms.

Can muscle spasms be a symptom of an underlying health condition?

Yes, sometimes muscle spasms signal other health problems. These can include issues with the nerves or the thyroid.

What are the different ways muscle spasms can manifest?

Muscle spasms can start with a quick, tiny movement. Or they can be a long, painful tightening. In the latter case, the muscle might feel really hard when touched.

How can muscle spasms be treated?

You can help spasms by resting the muscle. It’s also good to drink more water. Lightly massaging and stretching the muscle can work. Using warm or cold packs may also ease the discomfort.

How can muscle spasms be prevented?

Good hydration is key to keeping muscle spasms away. Stretching and warming up before exercising are important too. Make sure to get enough rest and recovery time.

When should someone seek medical attention for muscle spasms?

If muscle spasms become regular or really strong, it’s time to see a doctor. This is especially true if other symptoms show up or if a nerve issue might be the cause.

What are some other potential causes of muscle spasms?

Working muscles too hard, missing key nutrients, or not getting enough rest may trigger spasms.

Are there any alternative techniques that can help alleviate muscle spasms?

Using a foam roller, cupping therapy, or trigger point release can lessen how often and how badly muscle spasms occur.

Can medications be prescribed for persistent or severe muscle spasms?

Sometimes, doctors might give medications for continuous or serious muscle spasms. These drugs help relax the muscles and stop them from tightening on their own.

How important is proper hydration in preventing and managing muscle spasms?

Staying well-hydrated is vital for preventing and handling muscle spasms. Dehydration is a big reason why they might happen in the first place.

What role does nutrition play in preventing muscle spasms?

A good diet is crucial. It should have plenty of lean proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats. This kind of eating helps the body work well and keeps muscles from spasming too often.

Are there any specific issues athletes face with muscle spasms?

Athletes deal with muscle spasms more than others because of their hard workouts. They often get cramped muscles in the calves, stomach, and arms.

Source Links

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/muscle-spasms
  2. https://www.henryford.com/blog/2020/07/making-sense-of-post-workout-muscle-spasms
  3. https://www.webmd.com/brain/ss/slideshow-twitches-spasms-causes
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/muscle-cramp/symptoms-causes/syc-20350820
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499895/
  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/muscle-spasm-treatment
  7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/muscle-pain/basics/when-to-see-doctor/sym-20050866
  8. https://www.healthline.com/health/muscle-relaxers
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1150229/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6901412/
  11. https://ckbirlahospitals.com/cmri/blog/exploring-the-causes-of-muscle-spasms-and-how-to-prevent-them