Normal daily exercise, such as crunches or sit-ups can come to a screeching halt when severe abdominal muscle spasms take over. These can be a very sharp, squeezing pain, or may even feel like a "Charlie horse." This type of pain can prevent a person from performing normal daily exercise, which can be quite upsetting for those who wish to either get or stay in shape. In this article we will discuss the symptoms, causes, and treatments for abdominal muscle spasms.
Symptoms of Abdominal Muscle Spasms
The accompanying symptoms of abdominal muscle spasms will depend upon the underlying cause. Below we have listed some common symptoms:
Change in bowel movements: This can be either with constipation or diarrhea. Constipation occurs when there is difficulty with emptying the bowels due to abnormally hard feces. Alternatively, diarrhea occurs when feces are ejected frequently and commonly in liquid form. Your abdominal muscle spasms may accompany one or both of these bowel abnormalities.
Heartburn: This is a sensation in your chest that resembles burning. It most commonly affects the chest area, but can also manifest in the neck, throat, and even face. This burning sensation is caused by stomach acid entering the esophagus. The condition worsens when bending or lying down, thus you may experience it during exercise.
Nausea: This feeling of sickness may occur with or without actual vomiting. If you do vomit, then that is considered an additional symptom.
Abdominal pain: This is a rather ambiguous symptom, experienced in a variety of ways for a number of reasons. The abdominal pain may be acute or chronic, localized or diffused, sharp or dull. There are many different characteristics of abdominal pain, and the way you experience it will depend upon what is causing your abdominal muscle spasms.
Chest pain: This is similar to abdominal pain in the sense that it can be felt in a number of different ways, acute or chronic, a tightness or pressure, etc. This Cardiopulmonary symptom may manifest with your muscle spasms during exercise.
Change in respiration: This may be either with a shortness of breath or Tachypnea (rapid breathing). A shortness of breath after physical exertion such as exercise is quite common, but when it happens at rest there may be a serious underlying condition. If your shortness of breath is just a side effect of routine exercise, it should dissipate after a few minutes of rest. Tachypnea is when the normal rate of respiration significantly increases.
Fever: It is characterized by a body temperature over 100°F and may be accompanied by sweating, shivering, or delirium.
Other symptoms that are rarely experienced with muscle spasms are blood in the stool or urine, a bulge/growth in the abdomen or groin, and fainting.
Causes of Abdominal Muscle Spasms
Overworked muscles: Unfamiliar exercise or frequent strenuous activity can cause the abdominal muscles to spasm. This happens because the muscle is being overused, resulting in the muscle's energy loss . This loss of energy causes it to contract suddenly, resulting in muscle spasms. This contraction of the muscle may involve the muscle in totality or only a specific part of it. People who are more at risk of developing muscle spasms due to this reason are athletes, an individual who exercises frequently or has just started exercising, or someone in an occupation that requires vigorous exertion such as construction workers. The exercise that will most likely cause abdominal muscle spasms to manifest is crunches or sit-ups. A muscle can also become overworked with normal daily activities such as shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, or raking grass.
Dehydration: If the muscles are depleted in water and electrolytes, muscle spasms can occur. This is because proteins in the muscles require a certain amount of water, glucose, sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. When these substances are low, their normal function becomes abnormal, which sometimes results in abdominal muscle spasms.
Kidney Stones: This is an abnormal mass that is present in either the kidneys or urinary tract. This mass is comprised of hard crystalline mineral material. There are a number of factors that contribute to the formation of a kidney stone. These include a decrease in urine volume, excess in a specific substance in the urine, and dehydration. Kidney stones can cause severe pain in the abdomen, back, or groin. This sporadic pain may feel like cramps or muscle spasms. This means the severity of the pain will change frequently, being mild at one instance while unbearable at the next. Other accompanying symptoms include nausea, vomiting, blood in the urine, difficulties urinating, penile pain, and testicular pain.
Black widow spider bite: A bite from this highly venomous spider can cause abdominal muscle spasms. The first sign of a bite will be the actual bite itself. Given the severe pain induced by this bite, you will be aware of its presence. The other symptoms will manifest in 20-60 minutes after the bite has occurred. The spider's venom affects the victim's nervous system, which results in severe muscle cramps or spasms in the abdomen, shoulder, or back. Nausea, vomiting, chest pain, dizziness, fainting, and weakness sometimes follow. The severity of the spider bite reaction is dependent upon the victim's age and health. Children and the elderly are more at risk of developing a severe reaction to the spider's venom.
Hypothyroidism: The thyroid is a gland located in the neck that has the function of regulating metabolism hormones. Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid that is not producing enough hormones. Muscle spasms, aches, and tenderness are symptomatic of this medical condition. Other symptoms include fatigue, constipation, sensitivity to the cold, pale skin, hoarse voice, weight gain, brittle nails, and depression. If abdominal muscle spasms coincide with any of these symptoms, then you may have hypothyroidism.
Other more rare causes of abdominal muscle spasms are diverticulitis, intussusception, hernia, cholecystitis, and bowel obstruction.
Treatment for Abdominal Muscle Spasms
After discovering the cause of your abdominal muscle spasms, you must seek treatment options. Below we have described treatments in accordance with each cause:
Overworked muscles: To prevent spasms, it is important that you stretch your muscles thoroughly before and after exercise. If the muscle spasms occur while doing exercise, you should cease the activity and gently massage the abdomen. Following this massage you should apply either a cold or hot compression pad to the site. Another effective treatment method for abdominal spasms is to lie on your back and position your arms under your head, grasping the elbows. Once you are in this position you should inhale for a count of 8 and then exhale for another 8. This should be repeated until the muscle spasm goes away.
Dehydration: Drinking lots of fluid throughout the day will prevent dehydration from occurring. Extra fluids should be ingested when the weather is hot or when you are partaking in vigorous activity.
Kidney Stones: Kidney stones will typically pass naturally within 1-2 days. Fluid uptake will need to be increased in this time period to make the process easier. Pain relief is commonly in the form of over the counter painkillers and should be taken when needed. However if the pain is very severe, your doctor may potentially prescribe stronger narcotic pain medication. If the kidney stone does not pass naturally within a few days, then medical intervention may be required. This involves the application of lithotripsy, which uses shock waves to erode the kidney stone into smaller pieces.
Black Widow Spider Bite: This does not typically require medical treatment. Relieving the symptoms at home is what is normally carried out. This involves the application of cold or warm compresses to the bite site or taking a hot bath to relieve pain and the spasm. Pain medications are also recommended to relieve the pain of the bite. However, if you experience chest pain or the victim is either elderly or very young a doctor should be sought immediately.
Hypothyroidism: This condition requires treatment for the rest of your life. You will be required to take the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine daily. This will restore your hormones to their previously normal state. Once treatment has started, you will notice improvement within 2 weeks. Despite the fact that your symptoms will dissipate, you will not be allowed to stop treatment for the rest of your life, because discontinuing treatment will typically cause the symptoms to manifest again.
Hopefully upon reading this article you can determine both what caused your abdominal muscle spasms and how to treat this inflection.