Muscle spasms are also commonly known as muscle cramps or charley horses. At some point in your life, everybody will have experienced one, and normally they are relatively harmless (although painful) and pass quickly. They can be a more serious issue though, affecting some people on a much more regular basis. For these people, they are a real problem due to the pain they cause and the fact that they render the muscle affected unusable until they pass.
There are a variety of different methods that can be used to treat the problem. One that is becoming increasingly popular and seems to be effective by numerous testimonials is the use of cannabidiol (CBD) based treatments. While it definitely won’t cure muscle spasms, these naturally derived treatments seem to really help those who suffer from muscle spasms on a re-occurring basis. In this article, we will look closely at muscle spasms and their causes, the treatments typically used against them, and investigate CBD’s suitability. If you would like to know more about using CBD to treat muscle spasms, you are in the right place.
What are Muscle Spasms?
A muscle spasm is a sudden, involuntary contraction of a muscle which results in a very painful sensation. They also render the muscle affected impossible to use until the spasm has passed. They most typically occur in the leg muscles, particularly the calf, but can affect many different types of muscles including skeletal and smooth muscles. There are a number of different causes of muscle spasm. These include:
- Overuse of a muscle – This is the most common reason for a muscle spasm and the one that most of us will have experienced at some point. It could be brought on from exercise or a routine daily activity such as mowing grass. What happens is the muscle in question runs out of fluid and energy and becomes hyperexcitable. This results in a forceful contraction. It is more likely to occur if the muscle is tired, strained, previously injured or you are doing an unfamiliar exercise.
- Dehydration – Muscles need enough water, glucose, potassium, magnesium, sodium and calcium to function properly. An irregular supply of these can cause the muscles to develop spasm.
- Peripheral artery disease – This causes the arteries to narrow which can lead to spasm because the muscle receives an inadequate supply of blood and the nutrients it delivers. Often this affects the leg muscles.
- Restless legs syndrome/nocturnal leg cramps – these are leg spasms that occur at night and cause sleep disturbance. They become more common with age and often the exact cause is never found.
- Chronic pain – When chronic pain occurs in a large muscle group such as the neck or back, it can cause recurrent muscle spasms. Could be caused by an injury or due to arthritic changes in the spine.
- Disease of the nervous system – These can be associated with muscle spasm. Examples include multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries.
- An underlying condition – A lot of disorders can cause frequent spasms. They include obesity, diabetes, kidney disease and more.
A group of muscles called smooth muscles can also go into spasm. These are muscles located upon the walls of hollow structures within the body such as the arteries, bladder or iris in the eye. Spasms here cause significant pain as the muscle spasm squeezes the fluid or air in the middle of the hollow structure, but fluid and air can’t be compressed so the pain is extreme. They are most likely caused by an underlying issue.
There is a disorder associated with muscle spasm called dystonia. This is a movement disorder which causes muscle groups to forcefully contract, resulting in twisting. Normally, the symptoms begin very mildly and get progressively worse, becoming more aggressive and frequent. On rare occasions, it does not worsen. Dystonias are thought to be caused by incorrectly functioning neurotransmitters in the basal ganglia within the brain. Suffering a stroke can also result in dystonia as a complication.
How are muscle spasms traditionally treated?
The key to stopping muscle spasm is prevention. There are a number of different steps you can take to try and ensure you stay spasm free. The most important is to keep well hydrated and to prepare your muscles for an activity by stretching them to warm them up. Both of these steps should be adhered to when you are doing heavy labor such as mowing grass or shoveling snow, not just when doing exercise. If a spasm occurs in a large skeletal muscle like your calf, you can treat it initially by stretching out or massaging the affected muscle.
Further treatment beyond this would focus on treating the underlying cause of the spasms. Damaged or strained muscles can be treated with pain relief medications such as anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants.
Smooth muscle spasm treatment would require the diagnoses and treatment of the underlying cause.
Nocturnal leg cramps are notoriously difficult to treat. Quinine used to be prescribed in the past but it has adverse side effects such as causing abnormal bleeding problems. Now, medications such as diltiazem and gabapentin may be used but their success rate is variable.
Dystonias can be treated with a range of medications including anti-Parkinsonism drugs, muscle relaxants, botox injections and seizure control drugs. Often, this requires extensive trial and error to find the correct medication in the correct dose for effective relief.
Can CBD help with muscle spasm?
CBD is derived from the cannabis plant. For millennia, man has known about the wide range of effects caused by the cannabis plant but it was only relatively recently that we discovered why it has these effects. Scientists discovered that within our body, we have the endocannabinoid system and it is involved in nearly all aspects of the body’s homeostasis. Naturally, our body produces things called cannabinoids which work upon this system and help regulate it. The active ingredients of cannabis are also called cannabinoids because they work in exactly the same manner as the cannabinoids our body’s produce naturally, affecting the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is involved in a lot of physiological processes, which is why cannabis has so many different effects.
CBD is one of the two main cannabinoids found in cannabis. The other is THC, which is responsible for the “high” buzz that recreational marijuana users seek. THC is not present in CBD based products and so is not relevant here, except to point out that because CBD treatments have no THC, they do not give out any of the “high” feeling side effects you may be worried about.
CBD has been shown to help with muscle spasms in two main ways. The first is that it helps to relieve inflammation. Inflammation is your immune systems way of protecting the body from what it perceives as a danger. Spasms are essentially an inflammation response. An inflamed muscle is irritated and angry and is likely to spasm to draw attention to the fact that something is wrong. Research has found that CBD works upon CB2 receptors, which are part of the endocannabinoid system and play an important role in inflammation regulation. By increasing the CBD in your body, you can calm inflammation, thus helping reduce spasms.
The other way CBD can help with spasms is by reducing pain. CBD also works upon the CB1 receptor in the endocannabinoid system too. Here, CBD increases the amount of an endocannabinoid called anandamide which in turn reduces the pain sensation. If you apply a CBD topical directly to a painful muscle in spasm, this process should cause the pain to lessen.
Are there studies to support CBD’s effectiveness?
There has long been a significant barrier to scientists who wish to research the health benefits of cannabinoids such as CBD due to the legal status of cannabis. This is changing however, with the world at large becoming ever more aware of the possible health benefits of cannabinoids. One of the main focuses for research thus far has been how cannabinoids can reduce spasticity and the results are very promising indeed. Here are the details of a few studies:
- A study published in the journal, Drugs, in 2014 was the largest multinational clinical trial to investigate the effects of cannabis as a treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS) to date. Syed at al. gave one group cannabis containing CBD for 12 weeks and another group a placebo. They found that after only four weeks, the cannabis group had already reported a significant improvement in spasticity. At the end of the 12 weeks, the cannabis group had a significantly reduced spasticity severity when compared with the placebo group. This suggests cannabis treatments may work with helping reduce spasms.
- In 2010, Colin et al had the results of a study they carried out published in the journal Neurological Research. They examined how effective the cannabis-based medication Sativex was in reducing spasticity in patients over 15 weeks. Their results were very positive, as they found that spasms were significantly reduced after just four weeks of treatment with Sativex, even in patients where traditional efforts had shown to be ineffective previously.
- Malfitano et al published a review paper in the Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment journal in 2008 where they looked at the main findings of research looking at cannabinoid drugs as a treatment for MS. What they concluded was there is an ever-increasing body of evidence that suggests cannabinoids have a positive effect on muscle spasticity and pain relief in MS patients. This backs up the idea that CBD could be used to treat muscle spasms as it appears to be effective in relieving spasms and the pain caused by them.
If you suffer from reoccurring muscle spasms, the first point of call should be to consult your doctor. There could be a serious underlying problem that you are unaware of that may need urgent attention. If you need help in relieving the spasms, CBD seems to be an excellent option. It is a natural remedy which appears to work on relieving both the pain symptoms of spasms as well as one of the underlying bodily causes, inflammation. CBD is available in a topical and this would be ideal for those who suffer from persistent spasms as you can directly apply the medication to the affected area, which should hopefully result in a fast-acting relief. Frequent muscle spasms are not pleasant, adding an unwanted and painful interruption to your day. CBD certainly seems to be beneficial. If you suffer from muscle spasms, maybe it is time you tried out CBD, but remember, always consult with your primary physician before you try any product.
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