spasm or cramp

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What do you call this type of symptom in English and what is the natural ways to use it in a sentence?

After taking a nap on the couch, I felt severe pain in my back. I cannot bend my back. It feels like my muscle in the back got really tight. Is it called cramp or spasm?

I have spasm in my back or I have cramps in my back.
  • pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    Yes, if you had more than one episode or had them in more than one place. If it happened just once, it's "a cramp." You could also (AE at least) say "My back cramped up."


    Senior Member
    English - England
    A spasm is an involuntary contraction of muscle (often causing pain); cramp is a less technical term for a spasm.

    We can speak of spasms - a series of involuntary contractions of muscle but, in BE, cramp is rarely seen in the plural. If you want to speak of an episode in which you suffer from cramp several times, you would say, "I keep getting cramp in my leg."


    Senior Member
    English - American

    I would use spasm for involuntary contractions of muscles, momentary but possibly repeated. I know from personal experience that these contractions can be strong enough to cause temporary damage (a muscle strain, or pulled muscle) which could result in temporary (hours to weeks) disability such as you mention. Spasms are usually caused by improper nerve activity. Spasms (plural) usually refers to their repetitive nature, rather than multiple locations.

    I would use a cramp to refer to a strongly contracted muscle which remains contracted for several minutes. It is usually caused by oxygen depletion or strenuous activity. A common AE name for this (only in the leg) is a "Charley Horse".

    We do use the plural, cramps, as a generic term. "To avoid getting cramps, don't go swimming for one hour after eating." (This may or may not be true, but it is a common AE belief.)

    You could also use the plural to speak of getting a cramp in more than one location. "I got cramps in both legs after that last race." "Over half the contestants got cramps after racing on such a hot day."

    The AE/BE difference may be due to BE referring to the condition (cramp - a malady), and AE referring to the description (tightened muscles - cramps). I have observed this difference in usage with other terms, as well.
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