What is the difference between a muscle spasm, a muscle cramp, and muscle guarding? It’s been a hot, hot summer and many of us found ourselves less active than usual due to the heat. As temperatures begin to cool off we see an increase in activity and with that comes an increase in muscle cramps – or are they muscle cramps? Let’s find out more!

What is the difference between a muscle spasm, a muscle cramp and muscle guarding?


Muscle Spasms

A muscle spasm is a sudden, involuntary contraction of a muscle. Most common are spasms of skeletal muscles and this is often due to overuse, dehydration, or electrolyte imbalances. They are abrupt, painful and usually do not last long.

Muscle Cramps

A muscle cramp is a common or lay term for a painful, prolonged muscle spasm. Charley horses or twitching pectoral muscles are cramping situations. You could almost say that all cramps are a muscle spasm but not all muscles spasms are cramps.

Muscle Guarding

Muscle guarding is usually the direct result of an injury. It is more persistent and can be especially troublesome. It acts as a protective mechanism following an injury, such as a broken bone or a sprain. Muscles will spasm to minimize movement and stabilize the area of injury often acting as a splint. Those with disc issues are familiar with the excruciating pain of a compressed nerve accompanied by muscle cramping.

Why is it important to understand the difference between muscle spasms, muscle cramps, and muscle guarding? The prevention and treatment will vary depending on which of these are actually occurring. Your health care team should work with you to identify which of the three is occurring and work with you to identify the cause and your course of treatment. In some cases the wrong course of treatment may actually aggravate the condition worsening it rather than relieving it.

Now that we’ve described the difference between muscle spasms, muscle cramps, and muscle guarding we’ll cover prevention and treatment of these conditions next time. Until then – be kind to yourself and your body, hydrate and fuel your body, take time to stretch, recharge, and rejuvenate.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments