muscle contractures

What causes muscle contractures? Symptoms, treatment, home remedies, and prevention

Muscle contractures can be described as a loss of strength and muscle control. They can occur after an especially strenuous exercise and result in the inability to stretch out or use the affected muscle group. This phenomenon is often described as the muscle feeling “tight” or “cramped.” It is usually a temporary deformity that reduces joint flexibility and range of motion.

What are contractures?

Muscle contractures are generally considered a good thing and are required for us to be able to use virtually every part of our body. Muscle fibers contract by producing changes in muscle length, essentially by shorting the distance between actin and myosin filaments.

States of prolonged shortening or tightened tissues are referred to as a contracture. Here, muscles may stay contracted despite all effects. Contractures can affect skin, muscles, joint area, tendons, and ligaments, preventing normal movement.

Related: Muscle fatigue: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

What causes muscle contractures?

Muscle contractures can occur for several reasons, such as paralysis (loss of muscle function), muscular atrophy (decrease in muscle mass), and due to various forms of muscular dystrophy (muscles diseases). Essentially, these conditions will affect the muscle’s ability to form its basic function. The following are some examples of muscle contracture causes:

Strenuous physical exercise

Can put too much pressure on certain joints, leading to contractures and reduced mobility. This may be emphasized with abrupt movements or improper form when performing exercises.

Not warming up

Not taking the time to stretch before performing physical exercise can lead to the increased likelihood of contracture development. This is because your muscles perceive even a normal amount of strain to be greater than it is. This can result in the muscles and joints being pushed beyond their limits, possibly risking injury.

Poor posture

Adopting incorrect postures, such as from sitting at a desk, in front of a computer screen, or even just constantly looking down at your phone for an excessive amount of time, can lead to joint stiffness and muscle contractures.

Related: Exercises and tips to improve posture and alleviate back pain

Injury

Any sort of trauma in the body can lead to either complete or partial contractures. This includes fractures, torn ligaments or tendons, burns, and nerve injuries. This is mainly due to injuries causing reduced joint mobility preventing normal range of motion, which can lead to contracture development.

Disease, misuse, and immobilization

Not using the muscles of a particular part of the body for extended periods of time can lead to contracture development. This may be seen as a result of injury preventing movement, prolonged bed rest, or even simply wearing a cast.

Draft and temperature extremes

Rapid temperature changes from hot to cold can lead to muscle contraction. If excessive muscle tightening occurs, as if you were caught in the cold without a jacket, certain areas of your body will begin to contract or shiver to help produce heat. Over time, this can lead to soreness, aches, and contractures.

Infection or disease

Muscle contractures can be a symptom of the following conditions: multiple sclerosis, head injuries, polio infection, joint and bone infections, cerebral palsy, stroke, nerve and muscle infections, as well as injury during birth causing paralysis.

Treating muscle contractures

Medical exam

This is the first step your doctor will perform consisting of a medical history and physical exam. By answering questions related to your presenting symptom, your doctor will be able to better diagnose the most likely cause of your contractures, ultimately providing better treatment. This process may also involve the use of imaging studies, such as X-rays.

Physical therapy

One of the most common treatments for contractures, helping to increase range of motion and strengthen muscles. physical therapy can be done via hands-on sessions with a physical therapist or learned to be performed at home. However, physical therapy is only effective if don’t regularly.

Devices

The use of a cast or splint can help stretch tissue near problem areas, reducing contractures. Another device called a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine may also be used, which helps to keep an affected body part moving.

Medication

Depending on the particular cause of the contracture, medication can be used to reduce pain and inflammation. Botox injections (botulinum toxin) is also sometimes used in muscle to reduce tension and spasms.

Surgery

Used in some cases for the repair of tissue with hopes of regaining full range of motion. Surgery can be used to lengthen muscles or repair ligaments, tendons, or bones.

Home remedies for muscle contractures

Rest

Stopping any form of intense activity or physical exercise of the affected area is the most important step in muscle contracture recovery. It is important to remember that rest does not mean to become immobile or sedentary, but rather just to take it easy for a while. Rest may take a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on your doctor’s recommendations.

Keep your joints moving

Massaging the affected area will help keep blood flow moving and the nerves stimulated. Doing this a couple times a day will improve muscle contracture recovery. It is advised not to apply too much pressure on the area of the contracture during the initial stages as it may lead to further injury and prolonged recovery. Severe forms of contractures may require the aid of a skilled physiotherapist.

Heat treatment

The warms from hot showers or a heated towel can do wonders for easing muscle tension. This can also extend to wearing warm clothing during cold days if you are especially sensitive to temperature changes.

Go to your doctor

Getting a professional opinion on any concerning medical problem you may be facing is also a good idea. Your doctor can work together with you to rule out potential causes for your condition and recommended the most effective treatments available. There are many conditions that only a trained doctor will be able to recognize, so it is worth it to get their medical opinion.

Eat right and take your vitamins

Your body requires a certain amount of nutrition, including vitamins and minerals, every day. This is why eating a well-balanced and healthy diet is recommended for everybody, not just ones suffering from medical conditions. Sticking to a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean meat helps provide the body with important substances such as vitamin C, D, and omega-3.

Complications of delaying treatment

The longer you delay treatment for muscle contractures, the more likely you are to make it worse and for them to interfere with performing everyday tasks. Additionally, if your particular case of muscle contractures is due to an underlying condition, forgoing treatment will only make it more difficult or even impossible to regain normal mobility.

How to prevent muscle contractures

While certain medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, cannot be prevented, there are still several things you can do to help reduce the occurrence of muscle contractures. For muscle contractures in general, getting regular exercise and living an active lifestyle can help prevent joint and muscle stiffness. However, overly strenuous exercises should be done in moderation with an adequate amount of rest thereafter.

It is recommended if any were to occur, to see your doctor right away. This will help prevent contracture development and provide you the best possible treatment you currently need.

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