Muscle Spasms

What causes muscle spasms and knots?

There are many causes for muscle spasms – the ones most often seen in physical therapy are those that arise from trauma, guarding, poor blood circulation in physical exertion, overuse and overloading. Other causes can be electrolyte imbalances and drug side effects.


Muscle spasms from Trauma and Guarding

When a body or an extremity gets hit with a noxious stimulus – either a fall, a hit, or sometimes even surgery – the body tends to want to protect itself from another traumatic event (guarding). It does this by over-stimulating the muscles, causing that particular part of the body to tighten and stiffen to protect itself from being hit again. Some of you may have experienced this from a fall or a surgery, where you feel pain for days on end even though the apparent injury site is healing. The pain is often agonizing and the body is slow to recover because the muscles (and your psyche) need to be coaxed to relax again. This process is not as easy as it sounds: there definitely is a neural component, a mechanical component and a psychological component to muscle pain. Your physical therapist is armed with all the tools needed to calm your muscles down: manual therapy to decrease tensile stiffness, joint mobilizations to improve joint mobility and regain range of motion, exercises and stretches to gradually return you back to function, and most of all, reassurance that you will get through this. It is a delicate balance – one that most experienced physical therapists can appreciate.

Muscle spasms from overuse and overloading
Most muscle spasms and “knots” are due to overuse of muscle in lifting or carrying a load. Oftentimes, injury happens when the muscle is too weak or too fatigued to perform a task. Imagine a line of men trying to pull a weight that is too heavy for them. Eventually, they will start to complain, then try to overexert, then scream, then worse: falter and fall apart. This is much like what happens in a strained muscle. In truth, fatigue is ideal for muscle building (i.e. hypertrophy) – but excessive forces that a muscle cannot bear are usually damaging and need more time to recover.
Oftentimes in our Portland physical therapy clinics we see patients who have spasms because of muscle weakness. Sedentary habits have led their muscles to atrophy and when a given a load too heavy to handle, the muscles react with a spasm and the result is pain. In order to stop the cycle of weakness-strain-spasm, the weak muscles have to get stronger, and body mechanics trained to be more solid and unified to handle the load.
Common Injuries
The solution
A combination of the following:
  • rest
  • heat for tightness, ice for inflammation
  • anti-inflammatory drugs, if prescribed by a physician
  • manual therapy and joint therapy by your Physical Therapist
  • gradual progression of exercises and stretches
  • continual easy, movement such as walking or stationary biking
  • massage
Recovery time from a spasm or muscle strain varies: 2-8 weeks depending on the patient’s level of activity and strength.

By Alice Holland, DPT.
Alice’s Google + page.

If you’re in Portland, give us a call and experience Stride Strong quality at any of our of our three convenient locations in SellwoodBeaverton, and Hillsboro.

Ana Lucia Pinheiro
Ana Lucia Pinheiro
02:18 20 Oct 17
This place is amazing. I am so happy I found Stride Strong PT. Alice pays attention to all of the details, she watches every single move I make, my posture, and the way I move through every exercise. She is very knowledgeable, she was able to pin-point the problems in my back and she has a plan to help me become stronger where I need. The place is brand new, huge, and has nice exercise machines. I tried a few physical therapists in the area, and Alice is TOP, second to none, and I feel super lucky to have found her. Highly recommended!!
Prashant Gupta
Prashant Gupta
01:00 02 Oct 17
Dr. Alice at Stride Strong is one of the best PTs I have come across. Her attention to detail and assessment of the root cause of injury is very good. She is excellent in evaluating pain patterns and giving a training schedule for a rehab & injury prevention, she is extremely knowledgeable. I would strongly recommend Stride Strong to anyone looking for PT. It is easily the best PT clinics in Hillsboro area.
steven zollin
steven zollin
20:57 14 Sep 17
Highly recommend Stride Strong Physical Therapy , Alice showed me proper form to assist in recovery with my shoulder and is very knowledgeable.
Lindsay Nied
Lindsay Nied
23:33 18 Dec 17
I recently had a massage from Joel at the Hillsboro location. He was able to work on an ongoing issue I have been experiencing with my back after a sports injury, and I left feeling so much better. The whole facility looked incredible, and everyone I met was friendly and welcoming. I would highly recommend Stride Strong for massage and physical therapy.
JoAnn Hatch
JoAnn Hatch
08:20 08 Nov 17
Dr. Sydney is by far the absolute best physical therapist I've worked with ever! Her expertise in designing highly effective and efficient exercise plans is beyond compare. I feel so much better as my strength and function increases. She comes up with the most brilliant and fun ideas to motivate. To my delight she even offered to come to my home in Vancouver and work with me on my own equipment including a Stott Pilates Reformer. Talk about going above and beyond! Couldn't be more grateful I found her!!!
Clare Perry
Clare Perry
21:58 23 Oct 17
A full hour of a dedicated PT professional's time without aides or techs? That's just one of the things that sets this clinic apart from others. Competent, professional, and amiable, Dr. Alice Holland and her team are the best in the area. While I generally see them at the Cedar Mill Clinic on Cornell, situational constraints took me to their new Hillsboro clinic today near Intel Jones Farm. Beautifully furnished, spacious with easy parking and access. May you continue to grow and thrive, Stride Strong!
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