The short answer is that physical trauma can cause your muscles to uncontrollably tighten or contract. After a car accident, overstretched and damaged neck or back muscles cause muscle spasms. This causes inflammation and swelling, which irritates local nerves, and causes pain.
Muscle spasms are involuntary contractions that usually occur because of trauma, dehydration, overexertion, lack of use, low magnesium, and low potassium. Essentially, the muscles tighten and shorten, which is why it becomes difficult and painful to move. It can take several days for the inflammation to build up sufficiently for you to start feeling pain as opposed to discomfort.
With car accidents, your body experiences forces that it is not used to. Externally, your body’s movement is limited by the seat and seatbelt. Internally, however, your organs and other tissue compress under pressure, which in turn can exert pressure on the spine, joints, tendons, and ligaments.
Muscle spasms can feel as though the whole muscle has cramped up and cannot move. Consequently, the muscle may feel hard to the touch. Symptoms may include:
- Muscle weakness
- Slow or incomplete movement
- Skin numbness
- Tingling sensation
- Sleep problems
Many times, the injury and pain is limited. With anti-inflammatory treatment, rest, and a little physical therapy and stretching, you will be back to normal within a few months. Unfortunately, there are times when these injuries take longer to heal. Sometimes the forces are significant enough that the injuries go beyond minor muscle damage and inflammation, and require prolonged treatment.
Regardless of the severity of your injury, you should see a health care provider and follow their treatment recommendations.
Is it a muscle spasm or a muscle twitch?
Do not confuse muscle spasms with twitching. Muscle twitches are usually nothing to worry about; your muscle might unexpectedly contract or relax, which feels like a “jerk.” Consequently, this is due to a sudden release of neurotransmitters triggered by one of many reasons, like stress, too much caffeine, anxiety, exercise, fatigue, and low magnesium.
Muscle spasms are different than when the muscles contract all at once, which is called spasticity. Spasticity is a disruption of the normal muscle movement patterns. Instead of some muscles contracting while others relax to create smooth movements, all the muscles contract at once. This frequently happens with damage to nerves in the central nervous system and, according to the Cleveland Clinic, is seen in “cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and other conditions that affect the brain and/or spinal cord.”
Your central nervous system and the numerous nerve pathways in your body are complex and a discussion about injury to them goes beyond the point of this article. Suffice it to say, nerves control muscle movements and if the nerves controlling a particular muscle group are damage, then you may experience spasticity. Generally, spasticity will not occur from minor car accidents, but can result from major wrecks. The dilemma, sometimes, is determining whether the malfunctioning nerves are due to physical trauma versus neurological conditions or other diseases. Further complicating things is the delicate balance of neurotransmitters, and other chemicals that mediate signals between nerve fiber to help them coordinate proper muscle movement.
What can I do if I have a muscle spasm?
Regardless of whether you have muscle spasms or spasticity, you should see a health care provider for diagnosis and treatment. Both conditions can have significant impacts on all aspects of your life (e.g., getting out of bed, getting ready in the morning, working, sleeping), which can also lead to irritability and depression.
For legal assistance if you have muscle spasms after being in a car accident, contact Gage Mathers for a free consultation. For more articles on car accidents and injury law, check out our Car Accident Law articles library.