Muscle contracture is an involuntary, constant and painful contraction of part or all of the muscle. 
The involved muscle becomes hard, has hypertonia of the muscular fibers and limits the movement of the connected joints. 
The contracture causes muscle pain that may be mild or severe and may limit daily activities. 
There are many different causes for this disorder, so it is sometimes difficult to make the diagnosis.

A muscle contracture is different from a stretching or spasm. 
Muscle spasm is a strong involuntary contraction of the muscle, it is an uncontrolled movement of a small part of the muscle that can be seen beneath the skin. 
The stretching of the muscle is an excessive stretching of muscle fibers does not cause injury, tears or lacerations of the fabric.


The most affected muscle groups are:

  • The calf (gastrocnemius and soleus )
  • The back of the thigh (hamstrings and other leg flexors)
  • Adductor and glacier (inner thigh, especially in players)
  • Frontal area of ​​the thigh (quadriceps)
  • Back of the neck (trapezius muscle)
  • Lumbar and dorsal spine area
  • Feet, hands, arms, abdomen and buttocks, but in this latter case is often confused with pyriform syndrome .

Rarely, there are contractures in the adductor muscles (groin or inner thigh) or in the pectorals.


Causes of Contracture in Muscle

There are many possible causes of muscle contraction and each one depends on the predisposing factors, the body part where they occur and the environment in which the body is working . 
Contractures occur mainly when a muscle is tired. 
When the muscle cell runs out of energy, it develops a strong contraction. 
The contracture may involve partially or totally the muscle, in certain cases, it also affects the adjacent muscles. 
Overload is the most common cause of contracture of skeletal muscles and often occurs in athletes who are doing intense workouts in a warm environment or who do heavy lifting at high temperatures.
Muscle contraction of the neck, shoulders, spine or abdomen may also occur during routine daily activities such as mowing.

Pregnant women may have lumbar or abdominal contractures because of their child’s weight and abnormal posture. 
Even performing a new activity can cause this disorder, abdominal contractions can occur when a person decides to start or hone their abdominal muscles by doing  the exercises very quickly.

Likewise, the writer’s cramps are caused by prolonged use of the small muscles of the hand. 
We usually think that dehydration and lack of magnesium and potassium cause muscle contractures and cramps . Muscle cells require enough water, glucose, sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium to allow the proteins inside to interact and develop an organized contraction. The lack of these elements can irritate the muscle and develop a contracture.

Contractures caused by other diseases

Even atherosclerosis or stenosis of the arteries (peripheral arterial disease) can cause a contracture or cramps because the nutrients and blood supply are not able to reach the muscle. 
Peripheral arterial disease can decrease blood flow to the legs, causing pain with the activity. 
Leg contractures are often related to exercise, but cramps can occur at night especially  in the calf and foot muscles. 
Nocturnal leg cramps and restless leg syndrome  are considered a type of sleep disorder. 
Systemic diseases such as diabetes , anemia, kidney disease, thyroid disease and other hormonal problems are other potential causes. 
Pathologies of the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury, may help to provoke a contracture.

Even smooth muscle can be affected by this disorder. 
For example, the smooth muscle of the intestinal wall may have a contracture causing severe pain called colic . 
Cramps are rhythmic (coming and going) and may also occur in the bile duct that empties the gallbladder.

Kinesio taping lombar

Dystonia is a movement disorder in which a group of muscles involuntarily contract forcefully and cause the inability to maintain a normal posture , causing contractures due to poor posture, especially at the lumbar level. 
Initially, the symptoms may be very mild but may gradually progress to become more frequent and aggressive. 
Rarely is there a progression. An example of this type of muscle contracture is torticollis in which the cervical muscles force the head to rotate  to one side.

Contractures of the head (occipital) muscles can cause headache and mental confusion.
Tension headaches can be caused by tension in the muscles of the face, for example those that tighten their teeth .

When kidney stones try to pass, the smooth muscles of the wall of the urethra that connect the kidneys to the bladder may have a spasm and cause throbbing pain . 
This type of pain is often associated with nausea and vomiting . 
The muscles surrounding the esophagus may have a spasm when irritation occurs with reflux esophagitis . 
Even diarrhea can be associated with colicky pain because the muscles of the colon wall have a spasm shortly before bowel movement.


Muscle contracture in infants and children

Babies and children may suffer from contractures and muscle spasms for several reasons. Low levels of potassium in the body can cause the onset of muscle contractions in a newborn. 
More serious disorders may be epilepsy, head trauma  or a high fever . 
Considering  that  children can not talk, it is important to consult a pediatrician to rule out serious illnesses that cause muscle spasms. 
A child may suffer from muscle spasms as a result of very rapid growth. 
Children who grow up experiencing these painful contractions because the bones stretch very fast while the muscles are shorter.
Usually, these contractions occur during the night and can last from 1 to 15 minutes. 
Although they are very painful they are not worrisome. 
Daily stretching and drinking  lots of fluids  can help relieve pain.


Signs and Symptoms of Muscle Contracture

The main symptom is pain in the sore area. 
There may be a limitation of movement proportional to the severity of the injury.

Depending on the affected muscle, there are certain limited and free movements, for example:

  • The contracture of the trapezius (between the back and the shoulder) causes cervical pain , limits the rotation of the neck on the same side and the lateral slope to the other side.
  • The contraction of the femoral biceps reduces the forward movement of the lumbar spine (like when you put your socks on your feet).
  • The calf contraction limits the raising of the toes (when climbing a ladder).
  • Quadriceps contraction limits knee flexion.

Palpation is felt as a harder and painful part to the touch. 
Some people have chronic contractions because they do not treat the muscle but continue to train. 
Muscle contractures may occur in conjunction with other symptoms that vary depending on the disease, disorder or condition to follow. 
For example, in the case of severe muscle contraction you may see bruising and swelling in the affected area. 
If contractions are caused by a disease that affects the whole body, such as hypothyroidism , it can be associated with weight gain, depression and fatigue .

Severe symptoms that may indicate a life threatening:

  1. In some cases you may experience muscle spasms along with other symptoms that may indicate a serious or life-threatening illness such as dehydration, acute spinal cord trauma, a wheezing or shortness of breath .
  2. Contractions of the smooth muscles of the heart arteries can cause angina or a heart attack .



The most effective treatment for contractures is physical therapy , a change in diet, medications,  or a combination of the three. 
Treatment depends on the cause, you also have to take into account whether this is an isolated incident or a chronic problem. 
Medications, alternative and complementary treatments or natural remedies can speed up the healing process and reduce pain. 
The treatment is effective if you:

  • Follow a healthy diet
  • Is at rest
  • Perform stretching exercises
  • Apply the  kinesio taping on the suffering muscle.

Among the natural remedies there are also supplements such as the devil’s claw ointment that is very useful for athletes with muscle contractures and contractures. 
Emotional and psychological stress such as anxiety, panic, tension, frustration or anger can cause a number of reactions in the body that affect the nervous system. Contractures, muscle tension, pain and stiffness in the neck or shoulders are symptoms that are often felt when a person is under emotional stress. 
The most serious diseases that cause involuntary muscle contractions are: dehydration, cerebral palsy, trauma, multiple sclerosis or spinal cord damage.



Drugs nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (eg. Voltaren) and muscle relaxants can relieve muscle contractures and rebalance the system. 
These medications can affect individuals in different ways and should be used in conjunction with other natural therapies such as physical therapy to get the best results.


Complementary and alternative treatment

There are several ways to relax your muscles and stop the tension:

  • Kinesio-Taping
  • Stretching
  • Physiotherapy Instrumental
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Progressive relaxation exercises

Taping for hamstring contracture

Kinesio taping for hamstrings contraction. 
Relaxing action 
Shape: Y-band. 
Length: from the ischial tuberosity to the head of the fibula. 
Apply the strap without tension and ask the patient to flex the torso forward with the legs extended. 
With the tails of the “Y” curl into the muscular womb of the biceps femoris. 
During the application, ask the patient to pull and hold the base of the “Y” in order to further lengthen the skin. 
Among instrumental therapies, the TECR ( capacitive and resistive energy transfer ) treatment works very well because it allows you to reduce contractures in one week while the ultrasound is slower.
It is based on the passage of an alternating current between two points, can develop a lot of heat, accelerate blood circulation and cellular metabolism.


The recovery time of the contracture

If the disease is caused by a systemic or organic disease, the recovery time depends on the underlying disease. 
In the case of muscular contracture, with proper treatment, within a week the problem is resolved, but if the lesion is left untreated it may require one or two months and increases the risk of recurrence.


Prevention of contractures

Keep your muscles relaxed and flexible by performing  stretching exercises. 
Slow the pace of physical activity during the day. 
Keep your muscles warm when you are feeling the contractures. 
The possible natural remedies  are: take a warm bath and cover yourself when the weather gets colder. 
Place a heat source or an ice pack over the affected area to relax the muscle.

The heat relaxes and loosens the muscles, while the ice acts on the nerve that holds the muscle contract and blocks the nervous signal.

Improve posture by learning not to unbalance the body (sitting, standing and walking), so that muscles do not have to fight against gravity to maintain vertical position. 
Drink plenty of fluids to avoid contractures and muscle cramps during exercise.

Reduce consumption of acidic foods like tomatoes and vinegar.

Eat foods that contain potassium such as bananas, potatoes, soy flour, bran and apricots. 
Chamomile helps to reduce muscle contraction. 
Relieve tension and stress by practicing relaxation techniques 
Increase your intake of minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.

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