Easy, Healthy Ways to Prevent Muscle Spasms
MS patients commonly suffer from muscle spasms, which is a form of spasticity that may involve sustained muscle contractions that are excruciatingly painful. Another type of spasm involves sudden, involuntary movements. MS-modulating medications may have little or no effect on a patient’s tendency to experience muscle spasms.
The National MS Society advises that muscle spasms “must be treated on an individual basis” with an emphasis on the partnership between the patient and her healthcare team of physicians, nurses and therapists.1 Curiously, the Society omits the patient’s caregiver from her “team.”
Treating muscle spasms with prescription medications
As discussed in prior articles, one of the roles of a caregiver is to objectively examine proposed treatments and discuss various options with the patient and her doctor. Sometimes the options are limited. Fortunately, the opposite is true for muscle spasms.
For many doctors, the go-to fix is prescription medication. Options include Baclofen, Metaxalone, and Cyclobenzaprine. The advantages of prescription meds are that they are generally effective, small, and easy to swallow and available as low-cost generics. Disadvantages include possible trial-and-error to determine which medication works for a specific patient and potential side effects that include dizziness, drowsiness, and constipation.
Alternative ways to manage muscle spasms
My wife is an MS patient who had long been taking a prescription medication to prevent spasms. She grew tired of the side effects and was wary of taking too many medications for various medical conditions. So, it was incumbent on both of us to research and discuss possible alternate ways to manage her painful muscle spasms.
Causes of muscle spasms
What causes muscle spasms? According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are five causes: 2
- Insufficient stretching before moving
- Muscle fatigue
- Exercising in heated temperatures
- Electrolyte imbalances
Gentle stretches and massages
In searching for natural solutions, we found The MS Society of the UK to be a valuable resource. It seems that about 20% of MS patients suffer from muscle spasms. Gently stretching and massaging the spasmodic muscle and applying heat or cold can provide immediate relief. To prevent spasms, patients who are ambulatory can do basic stretches every day. Some of these stretches are illustrated in a video that the MS Society of the UK has posted on YouTube.
The first four causes of spasms do not apply to my wife, as well as many other MS patients. My wife is unable to engage in strenuous physical activity, avoids excessive heat, and drinks a lot of water every day to prevent kidney stones. So, we focused on the fifth cause of muscle spasms. We asked her neurologist if adding electrolytes to her diet might prevent muscle spasms and obviate the need to take prescription meds. Her physician enthusiastically endorsed the idea.
Increasing electrolyte intake
But what is the simplest way to increase the intake of electrolytes? There are basically three options to increase our consumption of the key electrolytes – sodium, potassium, and magnesium. The first option is to eat more spinach, avocados, almonds, bananas, oranges, strawberries, and other foods containing these nutrients. Since we both eat these foods regularly, it didn’t seem like the best choice.
Pedialyte or sports drinks
The next option is to consume Pedialyte or sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade. The downside to this choice is that they contain high levels of sugar or other sweeteners, as well as artificial color. And they don’t always include a variety of electrolytes. (Red Gatorade contains sodium and potassium but no magnesium or calcium; plus, it has 28 grams of sugar in a 16-ounce serving.)
The third and, as it turned out, most effective option was to drink electrolyte water. The inexpensive Great Value brand of electrolyte water sold at Walmart and the Trader Joe’s Electrolyte and Alkaline Water each did the trick. Since we do less shopping amidst the pandemic, we also purchase an electrolyte concentrate, Buoy, online, and add it to filtered water or iced tea. The concentrated products tend to contain multiple electrolytes and vitamin B and they are effective in eliminating muscle spasms.
Please tell us how you have been able to prevent or reduce muscle spasms.
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