Muscle Contracture

Table of Contents:

  1. What is muscle contracture?
  2. Prognosis
  3. Symptoms of muscle contracture
  4. What medical tests are performed?
  5. Causes
  6. Prevention
  7. Treatment
  8. Medical specialists

What is muscle contracture?

A muscle contracture is, as its name indicates, a contraction of the muscle. This contraction of the muscle or some of its fibers is continuous and involuntary, causing the muscle to be in constant tension.

It is a fairly common injury, not only among athletes, which can prevent them from performing gestures normally and without pain. For this reason, it is important to know how to identify muscle contractures, differentiate them from other injuries and remedy them.

Muscle contractures can be distinguished according to their origin:

  • During exertion: During physical exercise the body metabolizes active substances and produces the movement, becoming waste or inactive substances (metabolites). If the effort is excessive, due to hardness or lack of training, the body does not purify the metabolites in the bloodstream and pain and inflammation occur.
  • Post-exertion: The muscle is unable to return to its resting state. It sometimes happens that, after intense exercise, if the muscle has been subjected to great work, it is unable to return to the relaxed state.
  • Residuals: When there is a serious injury, the surrounding musculature tends to contract as protection. This means that, even if the main injury is healed, the surrounding muscles remain contracted.

Prognosis of the disease

It is a not very serious but annoying injury that can worsen if not treated properly. If excessively delayed, it can be very difficult to regain normal range of motion.

Symptoms of muscle contracture

Normally the muscle contracts and distends but, in certain cases, the muscle does not relax and remains contracted, keeping the area stiff and swollen. The symptoms, therefore, are a bulging of the region to the touch, known as a “knot”.

Common symptoms are pain and limitation of movement, with greater limitations depending on the severity of the injury. Therefore, we can distinguish these four symptoms:

  • Joint and muscle pain and stiffness
  • Reduced movement
  • Muscle weakness
  • Limited use of the affected area

It is a continuous involuntary contraction of the muscle or of some of its fibers.

Medical tests for muscle contracture

The diagnosis is based on palpation of the affected muscle, to detect possible bulges or areas of increased tension. By moving the fingers, an attempt is made to detect a point with greater resistance, where the muscle fibers are contracted.

In addition, it will also be assessed if there is pain in the area, which will confirm the presence of a contracture. Another method consists of testing the mobility of the affected muscle, starting with the reference of the muscle on the opposite side.

In certain cases, an X-ray of the area affected by the pain may be performed to rule out a fracture.

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What are the causes of muscle contracture?

Muscle contractures usually appear when the muscle performs an inappropriate activity, in intensity or function. Thus, it can occur when we lift too much weight or when we make a sustained effort over time, for example. Some of the main causes are:

  • Cold: in the face of environmental cold or muscular solicitation, if an adequate warm-up is not performed, a contracture can be generated.
  • Overexertion: already mentioned, if we demand a sudden intensity or during a prolonged period of time without rest, the injury may occur. Also in cases of inadequate postures for a prolonged period of time. Sedentary people are more prone to suffer a contracture because the muscle is not prepared, as well as athletes if they are not properly prepared.
  • Emotional stress due to accumulated tension.
  • Dehydration: the lack of water or other components such as magnesium, glucose or potassium increases the probability of suffering a contracture, since they are important elements for the correct functioning of the muscles.
  • Advanced age: older people lose elasticity and are more prone to this type of injury.

Can it be prevented?

Muscle contractures should always be prevented by performing a good warm-up, prior to physical exercise, to prepare the muscle. It is also useful to make a progressive programming of exercise intensity (from less to more). Likewise, a good flexibility workout will prevent muscle contractions by improving muscle distension and recovery after exercise.

Other recommendations to take into account are the following:

  • Avoid repetitive movements: if it is not possible, due to work or other reasons, it is recommended to stop every two hours to stretch for five minutes in the area most affected by the repetition.
  • Maintain a correct posture and have good working material (chair, mattress, etc.).
  • Correct muscular hygiene: habits such as massages or the application of heat are positive for the muscles, which in addition to curing injuries serve to prevent new appearances.

Treatments for muscle contracture

It is not recommended to treat muscle contractures by oneself, since the massages we do or the medications we take may be inappropriate. It is advisable to go to an esthetician so that he can classify the contracture and carry out the most appropriate treatment:

  • Myorelaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs: these are drugs that relax the muscles and reduce the contraction. They are useful when the pain is very strong, but must always be prescribed by the doctor.
  • Local heat: it relaxes the muscle and has an analgesic effect.
  • Massage: should always be carried out by experts because, otherwise, the consequences may be worse. Massage increases blood flow, which improves tissue recovery and cleanses metabolites, as well as relaxing the muscle and reducing pain.

What specialist treats it?

Muscle contractures are treated by a specialist in Osteopathy or Physical Therapy.