Muscle spasm is contraction of muscles without conscious control. It can involve a group of muscles or organs or blood vessels.
It is characterized by stiffness and soreness of muscle followed by an outburst of pain.
Muscle cramps also involves contraction of muscles but are episodic in nature while twitching is minor contractions in a localized area caused by abnormal functioning of a nerve.
Prolonged exercise & overexerting the muscle
Pain and fatigue in the muscle are signs of overexerting the muscle. If these signs are ignored then energy required to relax a muscle can be lost leading to spasm and cramp. Improper posture can also lead to muscle spasms.
Dehydration & loss of salt
Loss of fluids and salts like potassium, calcium, magnesium salts can cause imbalance in nerves and muscle, thus preventing muscles from recovering appropriately. This loss can occur in the form of excessive sweating, vomiting or diarrhea.
Certain disorders cause deficiency in muscle enzymes which affects the energy supplied or required by muscle thus causing spasms.
This disorder causes stiffness in muscle due to delayed relaxation of muscle. However contractions similar to those in cramps are not seen.
Alcoholism, drug overdose, medications, menstruation, pregnancy etc.
Muscle spasms can be classified as:
- Smooth muscle spasm: Muscles found in gastro-intestinal tract, urinary bladder, vascular system etc.
- Musculoskeletal spasm: Back pain, neck pain, movement disorders
Muscle spasms are generally harmless and are relieved in a short time span.
However it depends on the cause. It can lead to tear in tendons or ligaments or it can turn out to be serious if the fault is in the nerves.
Turmeric has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine to treat pain and inflammation. This article is dedicated to acknowledging the use of turmeric, a perennial herb and spice, as an analgesic and antispasmodic against muscle spasms.
How Turmeric Relieves Various Kinds Of Muscle Spasms
In this section we will understand as to how turmeric makes use of its herbal and pharmacological properties in treating muscle spasms as well go over a few related research studies.
1.It is a natural analgesic and anti-inflammatory action
Muscle spasms are marked with pain, inflammation and swelling thus causing loss of coordination and reduced mobility.
Inflammation in muscles is characterized by release or synthesis of pro-inflammatory mediators like Interleukin-6,Cyclooxgenase-2 enzyme (COX-2), monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1), nuclear factor-kappaB, prostaglandins, bradykinins etc.
Each of these factors is either involved in the progression of inflammation or they increase the perception of pain.
Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) or pain killers are used at a greater frequency than muscle relaxants due to their activity of COX-2 inhibition. Turmeric is a safer alternative to NSAIDS.
Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory activity involves inhibition of COX-2, blocking metabolism of arachidonic acid which is an important inflammatory mediator released in response to injury and damage and by decreasing the activity and production of inflammatory elements like prostaglandins, interleukins, Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha.
It also suppresses nuclear factor-kappaB, a protein that modulates main components of inflammation and it prevents adhesion of immune cells to area of inflammation.
Overall turmeric prevents and controls inflammation and pain induced by it; it can be used to treat spasmodic pain.
2.It is a natural muscle relaxant and relieves spasms
Review of various literature has confirmed the role of turmeric as an antispasmodic agent. The muscle relaxant effect of turmeric has been explored in conjunction with another herb (Butea frondosa) in animal model.
High dose curcumin is found to have muscle relaxant effects similar to diazepam. Turmeric’s long proven anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic activities as well as the results of this study confirm its status as a muscle relaxant.
The antispasmodic action of curcuminoids was studied on smooth muscles of uterus and intestine. High dose curcumin was found to relieve spasmodic pain in uterus and intestine.
The results suggested that curcuminoids control spasm and bring about relaxation by depending or independently of receptors involved in muscle motor activity.
This could be of relevance to pain during menstrual cycle and pain related to gastric discomfort.
A similar study was conducted wherein turmeric extract was found to reduce contractions in intestine, trachea (breathing airway) and aorta (artery directly originating from heart) muscles.
The results of this study suggested that curcumin acts by reducing the blockage in calcium channel.
It is important to note that calcium ions link proteins present in the muscle when stimulated by neurons and this movement leads to contraction of muscles.
Recapture of the calcium ions and releasing the link of the proteins is necessary for muscles to relax which as per this study is brought about by curcumin.
3.It relieves delayed onset muscle soreness
Though no direct studies have been performed on the action of turmeric on common musculoskeletal spasm such as back pain or neck pain, we shall explore a study wherein turmeric deals with the same symptoms as in skeletal muscle pain.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles due to unaccustomed strenuous exercise. The symptoms are similar to those seen in muscle contractions.
A study determined the effect of topical application of turmeric in the case of DOMS. 12 health individuals were assigned to two groups where one group was given only ice pack to relieve pain and the other were given ice pack and local application of turmeric.
After 48 hours of strenuous exercise maximum soreness was observed and muscles could not be flexed. Swelling was also observed.
Local application of turmeric boosted the effect of ice massage.
The study indicated that anti-inflammatory property of curcumin helped in reducing pain and swelling by lowering histamine (substance involved in allergic and inflammatory response) levels and promoting the adrenal gland (organ that are mainly involved in stress response) to secrete hormones that would reduce inflammation.
4.It relieves spasmodic pain in IBS
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder characterized by chronic abdominal pain, altered bowel habits and overall discomfort.
A study conducted on the effect of turmeric extract on symptoms of IBS showed significant improvement in patient’s condition.
1 or 2 tablets of standardized turmeric extract were given for 8 weeks. IBS reduced by 53% and 60% compared to prior treatment score in 1 and 2 tablet group respectively while abdominal pain reduced by 22% and 25% in each group.
5.It relieves spasmodic pain in gallbladder disorders
Biliary dyskinesia is a disorder that affects motility in gallbladder: an organ responsible for storage of bile and aids in digestion. One of its main symptoms is episodic spasm in upper right area of abdomen.
The effect of turmeric on this pain along with a herb (Celandine) that improves the effect of bile was evaluated and it was observed that reduction in the spasmodic pain was rapid in comparison to placebo treated group within one week of treatment.
Dosage of Turmeric For Muscle Spasms
Turmeric is absolutely safe in diet. You can include as much as 1 tsp of turmeric powder in cooking every day.
Turmeric and curcumin do not dissolve well in water and therefore need to be taken with fats and black pepper for better absorption. Therefore we recommend taking Golden Paste. You can also make Golden Paste from fresh roots.
Start with ¼ tsp a day and if you observe no side effects keep increasing the dose by ¼ tsp every week till you reach 1-2 tsp 2-3 times a day. You can opt for higher doses if it suits you. Here are 10 easy awesome ways to use Golden Paste.
It is best to take Golden Paste after meals and avoid taking it close to other medication consumption.
If you need help identifying a good brand of turmeric please check our recommendations on organic turmeric.
Dietary turmeric is very safe but a few precautions need to be considered when it comes to turmeric supplements:
- Avoid in pregnancy and lactation
- Avoid if suffering from gall bladder obstruction
- Avoid if suffering from a bleeding disorder
- Discontinue prior to surgery
Avoid taking turmeric on an empty stomach to avoid acid reflux symptoms. (Does turmeric cause acid reflux?)
If suffering from a bleeding disorder, small doses of turmeric in diet are safe but it is best to consult a doctor before taking turmeric or turmeric supplements in this case.
A general precaution is outlined that turmeric may have drug interactions with stomach acid reducing medication, antidepressants, blood sugar reducing drugs etc.
Curcumin found in turmeric is known to interfere in drug metabolism. Hence it is advised not to take curcumin supplements concomitantly with any other medicine.
Any individual is prone to muscle spasms. A healthy diet, proper stretching exercises and reducing stress and strain on muscles can reduce the likelihood.
Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Turmeric can alleviate pain and inflammation associated with muscle spasms and serve as an alternative to painkillers.
As an antispasmodic agent it has been reported to reduce swelling and heal sprains.
It’s easy availability, cost effectiveness and age old history of healing powers makes turmeric a strong therapeutic candidate for muscle spasms.