The Difference Between Spasms and Cramps

Spasm and cramp seems to be used by many to mean the same thing. However, when there are two words for seemingly the same thing, there is likely a difference between them.

A spasm is generally any type of uncontrolled muscle contraction that may or may not be painful. Spasms can be differentiated into clonic or tonic, meaning intermittent or consistent. The term is used mostly for contractions of unspecified origin and for multiple types of muscle, such as skeletal and smooth muscle. If the reason for the spasm is known, then a more specific term is used. For example, when the muscle contraction is caused by nerve damage the term used is spastic, or the muscle has some degree of spasticity.

A cramp is a particularly painful spasm. It usage is mostly for skeletal muscle but is also used for other areas eg: stomach cramp. The cause of cramping has not yet been identified. Originally it was thought that cramping was a purely muscular mechanism either by dehydration, reduced electrolytes, over exertion, chronic shortening, or some combination thereof. Recent research has suggested that muscles cramping is instead a result of abnormal activity of the muscle’s innervating nerve. Nerves can also be subjected to dehydration and mineral fluctuations, the mechanism for this is still being researched.

There are several anecdotal treatments; the most common and widely utilized are stretching, activation of the antagonistic muscle, and massage therapy. Massage therapy session length and frequency will vary depending on the person and their situation. For example, someone with chronic cramping as a result of an active lifestyle might need more sessions than someone who works in an office and is experiencing an isolated event.

If you are experiencing muscle spasms or cramping and would like to book a massage therapy session, please give us a call at (705) 503 – 5050 or use our request appointment form. It is recommended to book the first appointment for a minimum of 45 minutes to ensure proper thoroughness.