The function of a muscle spasm

Hey everyone,

So now that my SI joints are relatively stable, it’s letting me observe different patterns within my body that I wasn’t able to see sooner.

When your SI joints are going out of alignment all the time, it’s hard to really see a pattern to it, or discern what your muscles might be doing.

But right now, my muscles are strong enough that they’re able to hold my SI joints in place for most day-to-day activities (although there are still things I’ve learned I probably should avoid!).

So now, what happens when I overdo it?

Now, thankfully, my SI joints are not likely to move out of alignment the way they used to. (Again, this is a combination of having enough muscle strength to stabilize them, and also choosing to move my body in the ways that are the most functional).

What does often happen, and what would happen to someone without SI joint issues, is that I’ll end up getting muscle tightness and spasms, instead.

I used to find this pretty scary because sometimes, it can mimic the feeling of your SI joints being out of alignment. With time, and with feedback from my PT’s, I’ve learned to tell the difference.

Now, I can see a different pattern to it.

With the way things are now, I can see how when a muscle tightens up, or even goes into spasm, that can actually be one way the body tries to create stability.

For example, I moved recently and spent much of the last two days unpacking things. I carried a bunch of stuff out to my car, to donate to charity. I was lifting and carrying things all day long.

Not heavy things, of course– I’ve learned to identify my body’s limits.

But by the end of the day yesterday, I had a pretty noticeable line of tightness that stretched up from just over the side of my left SI joint, towards the spine. It didn’t really hurt or anything like that. But I noticed it.

This is the same area that used to get really tight when I would get an upslip, which is the term for when of the hip bones gets pulled upwards, relative to the spine.

What I learned about upslips is that they are usually caused when a muscle called the quadratus lumborum gets tight and pulls that hip bone upwards.

The Quadratus Lumborum muscle highlighted in dark red. Photo credit Uwe Gille

And, wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly the same area where I felt things start to get tight last night.

The difference now is that, last night, I had enough strength in all of the other muscles around the QL, so when it spasmed, it wasn’t acting all by itself to pull the hip bone out of place. Now, it had other muscles as well, acting also to keep that hip bone in one place.

And last night, I saw that quadratus lumborum spasm differently.

When I didn’t have enough muscle strength to hold my SI joints in place, I couldn’t really see it because I would instantly get an upslip, which would really destroy my ability to analyze anything else that was going on.

But last night, I was able to feel some warmth, or almost kindness, towards my QL spasm.

Because while all of my other muscles were tired, from lifting and carrying things for two days, the QL was still going. And that spasm, in some senses, was actually, one of the things that helped to give some stiffness to my lower back area, now that all of my other supporting muscles were tired out.

This is something I’ve been learning recently, from some of my various PT mentors at Muldowney Physical Therapy and Inspire Motion Physical Therapy.

We are taught to think of muscle spasms as bad. Of course, in some ways, that makes total sense! They hurt!

However, if we look at why muscle spasms really happen, they can actually be a way for our body to create stability when all of the other options had failed.

Last night, all of the other muscles I’d been building up around my SI joints were finally maxxed out. My nervous system didn’t like this, as it sensed that things were starting to feel weaker. So it resorted to Plan B– calling on the one muscle that wasn’t quite as tired, and sending it into spasm.

That spasm creates a brace, in a sense. It’s an area of stiffness that gives other muscles something firm to attach to, when they may be struggling to do their own jobs.

When I was really weak, this protective mechanism would then backfire, as it would pull me into an upslip which I then needed my PT to correct.

But now I can see how, in its own right, the QL was actually just trying to help.

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4 thoughts on “The function of a muscle spasm

  1. Randall Weed Jr says:

    How long did it take you to get better? I am going on year 4 each is a little closer but I would like to speed it up thou.
    Randall Lee Weed Jr

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  2. Barbara A Van Rooyan says:

    Yes Christy this leads me to a question that has plagued me for a while. How do we know when we have the right BALANCE of muscle tightness/strength vs. too tight and therefore might pull the SI joint out of alignment? I am told to stretch the psoas and piriformus because if they are too tight they could pull SI out. Other muscles need to be strenghtened to provide support but if for instance, the QL is too tight (in relation to other muscles) then THAT can pull you into an upslip. It does get pretty confusing as to which muscles to strengthen and to what degree and how to know if balanced against other muscles. Does my quandry make sense?

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    • Christy Collins says:

      Yes. In some senses there are a few concrete things you can know. For example, everything I’ve learned about an upslip states that the QL is *always* involved. In terms of other patterns of imbalance, you could look at which ways you keep going out of alignment. For example, if you continually have an anterior rotation on one side, you can generally assume that the muscles in the front (the hip flexors) are tight, and the muscles in the back (hip extensors) are weaker. A PT can also do some strength testing on you to give you a general sense of how your muscles are balanced (or not so balanced).

      I hope this helps!

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