Researchers find two novel treatments for muscle spasms

Researchers find two novel treatments for muscle spasms
© iStock/Delmaine Donson

Researchers have found two innovative ways to provide relief for muscle spasms and alleviate the challenges faced by patients.

Muscle spasms are uncontrolled and sometimes painful movements. It can be a lifelong problem, however, there are treatments available to alleviate symptoms. A study from Edith Cowan University (ECU) has discovered two novel methods that could provide relief to sufferers of muscle spasms.

The team investigated motoneurons in the spine that could make the spinal cords less “excitable” and could potentially be used to treat muscle spasms.

The study, titled ‘Effects of reciprocal inhibition and whole-body relaxation on persistent inward currents estimated by two different methods’ was published in the Journal of Physiology.

What causes muscle spasms?

When bodies move, the brain sends messages to muscles via these motoneurons in the spine, which as a result of ‘persistent inward currents’, can amplify neural signals; therefore, the brain does not need to work as hard to contract our muscles.

PhD candidate and lead researcher Ricardo Mesquita said this amplification was vitally important but could also prove problematic; for example, following a spinal cord injury.

“These amplification powers are great, but sometimes they can be too much of a good thing,” he said.

“When you want to run fast for the bus, you want this amplification; studies show without it, we wouldn’t be able to produce more than 40% of our usual maximal force.

“But at the same time, we know some clinical conditions are characterised by hyperexcitable spinal motoneurons, with this amplification continuing without any inhibition to stop it.

“This can lead to involuntary muscle spasms that can be painful, cause injuries when people hit something accidentally, restrict movement, and wake people up at night.”

Two novel methods discovered

Mesquita identified two methods that can decrease neural amplification. With further research, this finding has the potential to improve the quality of life for people who suffer from muscle spasms.

The first method involves electrical stimulation on specific nerves, which the research found can reduce the amplification in the spinal cord.

“If this method proves to be clinically effective, we could strategically place a pad and send electrical stimulation where it’s needed to inhibit the muscle with the spasms. These triggers could be automatic, caused by the muscle’s electrical activity or the force of the spasm itself, or it could be manual where people press a button when they have a spasm,” he commented.

The second novel method aims to reduce neural amplification through relaxation.

“The amplification is enhanced by special chemicals such as serotonin and noradrenaline that we release when we move,” he said.

“These chemicals should be reduced when we are more relaxed than when we are contracting muscles or stressed. So, in some conditions such as brain injury or multiple sclerosis, relaxation therapies might have the potential to decrease this amplification and the severity of the spasms.”

Mesquita noted that the current therapy options for muscle spasms can be expensive, invasive and have side effects.

“Electrical stimulation and relaxation techniques could be non-pharmacological alternatives or used in combination with other therapies,” he said.

“Now that we have shown how we can reduce this neural amplification in people without neurological disorders, the next step would be to develop therapeutic protocols to see if they’re effective in people who suffer from these symptoms.

“If they are, clinical trials could then begin to examine long-term clinical effectiveness.”

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