Do you sometimes have muscles that tighten and relax, no matter what you do? This is called muscle spasm, and many people with fibromyalgia have this problem. In fact, some researchers consider one of the main causes of our pain.
Spasms are different from muscle spasms, which are brief and usually painless. When a muscle spasms, it tightens and remains so.
Spasms can be painful for anyone, and are worse for those with fibromyalgia because of a symptom called hyperalgesia, which is the name of the way our nervous systems amplify the pain signals.
What causes muscle spasm?
We do not have much research on why muscle spasms are involved in fibromyalgia. However, at least one study (Ge) suggests that our spasms are caused by myofascial trigger points.
Myofascial trigger points (PG) are bad tissue bands that form when soft tissue injuries (such as sprain or distension) do not heal properly. A condition called myofascial pain syndrome (MPS) can develop in someone with multiple active trigger points. MPS is extremely common in people with fibromyalgia and some doctors believe that they are actually the same condition.
PGs feel like hard lumps under the skin and are usually about the size of a pencil eraser. It hurts when you push them. More important, though, is that PGs cause referred pain, which is pain in another area of the body. For example, a Trp in the muscle that runs down the side of the neck can cause pain in the upper part of the head as well as feel sinus pain under the eyes.
In the Ge study, the researchers were able to reproduce the muscular pain of fibromyalgia – those seemingly random pains that arise in areas where nothing is wrong with the tissues – manipulating PGs. They concluded that PGs cause muscle spasms that were primarily responsible for the pain of fibromyalgia.
Of course, a single study is never conclusive.
Our muscle spasms can also be caused by other things, such as hyperactive nerves, nutritional deficiencies, or anything else.
Treat muscle spasms
Muscle spasms can be difficult to get rid of, so fortunately we have many options.
Things you can try at home include:
heat, ice or alternating between the two
medicines for topical pain such as Aspercreme, Tiger Balm or BioFreeze
relaxation / meditation
gentle stretching / yoga
epsom salt baths
Nutritionally, several things are believed to help with muscle aches. While they generally have not been specifically studied for fibromyalgia, foods and supplements that may help include:
magnesium and malic acid (separately or together as magnesium malate)
potassium rich foods such as dates, bananas, apricots, melon, grapefruit, peas, beans, potatoes, fish and beef liver
calcium (because cells need twice as much calcium to relax a muscle than to tighten one)
vitamin D (which tends to be deficient in fibromyalgia).
Health care providers also have a variety of tools to help relax tense muscles such as:
shot point injections
acupuncture (which is one of the preferred treatments for PGs)
massage therapy, chiropractic and other manual therapies
anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants
A 2002 study (Gur) suggested that low-intensity laser therapy may help relieve the muscle spasms and pain they cause in fibromyalgia. Several subsequent studies of this treatment have also been positive, although not all have specifically analyzed the impact on muscle spasms.
You can also make changes to your lifestyle to help relieve or prevent muscle spasms. These may include:
making your workstation more ergonomic
improving your posture
changing where or how you sit to watch TV
finding a pillow that gives you better support
wearing good shoes or insoles
You can pay to really examine your habits and see the things you do that can aggravate your muscles and make simple changes. If you need help to fix your posture, talk to your doctor about physical therapy.