Easing Muscle Spasms without Medications

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

Muscles have two jobs: to contract and to relax. When a muscle contracts, it is shortening the distance between two points and that action produces movement or tension. When a muscle relaxes, it is lengthening the distance between two points and that action produces movement and flexibility. If you are in pain, then your muscles are most likely having a difficult time relaxing and spending too much time being tense. Abnormally muscle activity is called a muscle spasm. Spastic muscles can feel like hard ropes or knots. Softening up the hard muscles can be as important and strengthening the soft ones. In order to ease painful muscle spasms without medications consider these options. Although these suggestions look familiar at a glance, they go beyond what you might have already heard before.

  • Muscle Massage: A good deep tissue massage hurts sometimes. A deep tissue massage works out those knots and ropes in the body. You may be sore for a couple days after the session, but you will begin to feel like a new person as the muscle soreness resolves into a new level of relaxation.
    Another type of massage that effectively helps the muscles relax is Thai massage because it incorporates muscle stretches. Done regularly, massage therapy can be an essential part of a pain management program.

  • Stretching: Everyone has learned to passively stretch muscles at some point in life, probably in a physical education class in school. But try going beyond the basics, into a new type of stretching called Somatic Stretching. This much more effective stretching method utilizes the power of the brain to help the muscles reset. The result is more flexibility and less pain.

  • Relaxation Response: Speaking of the power of the brain, the brain has a natural, quieting reflex that can be provoked. Because it's not an automatic reflex, you must practice two things: focus your mind on a repetitive word, phrase, breath or action that interrupts your normal train of thought; adopt a passive "oh well" attitude towards the thoughts that go through your head. The book called Managing Pain Before It Manages You by Dr. Margaret Caudill has a wonderful section about how to introduce the relaxation response into your pain management plan. When the brain is relaxed, the muscles are more likely to be relaxed.

  • Heat: Heat does promote muscle relaxation and blood circulation. Everyone has a heating pad somewhere in the closet, but you cannot really say that it was a life changing device. But did you know that an infrared sauna really could change your life? Here is what one woman with fibromyalgia and arthritic pain wrote about her infrared sauna: "My arthralgia's are a bit better, but most important to me is that my painful trigger points due to fibro and myofascial disease is much looser. Within 2 weeks of regular use I frankly began to see marked improvement, as did my physical therapists. The painful pebble-like knots of fascia I could feel throughout my body were smaller and hurt less, and over time have almost disappeared completely. My physical therapist was astounded, and after seeing them 3 times a week for nearly 4 months, they recommended releasing me from their care because they could do no better with their efforts."

Although medications can be useful for treating painful muscle spasms, caution must be advised because many of them can cause side effects like drowsiness, dizziness and confusion. If you'd like to avoid the use of medications or just want to try something different, utilizing one or all four of the above mentioned methods to ease muscle spasms really can help break the cycle of muscle-related chronic pain.

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.