Magnesium for muscle tension—how it works and how to choose the right type of supplement

Magnesium plays a crucial part in relaxing muscles and helping them to function. If your body is magnesium-deficient, this can cause spasms, tightness and tension in your skeletal muscles and joints.

In this guide, we cover:

  • how magnesium relieves different kinds of muscle tension
  • what it does to benefit the muscles
  • the different types of magnesium, their effects and how to choose between them

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Muscle spasms

Spasms are painful muscle contractions, and one of magnesium’s functions within the body is to prevent them.

It does this by encouraging the body to absorb calcium—another abundant mineral essential to good health—and prevent muscles and soft tissues from calcifying (hardening due to excess calcium).

Inside the body, calcium and magnesium are in competition, binding with the same proteins within your muscles. A build-up of calcium causes muscles to over-contract, leading to spasms or twitches.

Magnesium regulates those contractions and allows the muscles to relax. This is why some health professionals advise increasing intake to alleviate and prevent spasms.

Muscle spasms—particularly leg spasms—are often considered symptoms of magnesium deficiency, where the body lacks the magnesium it needs to stop the contractions. Other spasms are side effects of certain medications or linked to specific health conditions.

Although lots of people suffer with nocturnal leg spasms when sleeping, supplementing magnesium has had positive results in treating leg spasms in pregnant women[ 1> and the elderly<2 ].

If your muscles spasm or twitch after you’ve been exercising or standing for a long period of time, this might be a sign that you're deficient in magnesium.

Muscle strains

A muscle strains when it overstretches or tears. This kind of injury is quite common, and most frequently happens to:

  • neck muscles
  • back muscles
  • the hamstring

As straining a muscle can cause it to tighten and/or spasm as well as feel very sore, taking a transdermal magnesium supplement such as a bath soak or an oil can help limit any tension by helping the muscle to contract and relax.

Magnesium is absolutely necessary for proper muscle function. It works with other essential minerals in your body to keep the muscles loose and flexible.

When you exercise or do some kind of physical activity, magnesium relaxes your muscles and controls their contractions. It helps lessen the build-up of lactic acid—which can cause muscular tension—and enables your muscles to get the oxygen they need.

Indeed, magnesium plays an important role in your body’s energy production. Much of your energy comes from adenosin triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that converts energy from food sources into fuel for other bodily processes. This process contributes to proper muscle function.

Magnesium also helps your body produce growth factors, proteins that facilitate muscle growth and strength over the long term.

Not having enough magnesium in your body puts you more at risk of suffering muscle:

  • spasms (especially in the legs or feet)
  • tightness
  • aches
  • weakness
  • fatigue

Your magnesium intake depends on two things:

  • Your diet (dietary magnesium)
  • Any supplements you take

With supplements, it’s important to understand that there are several different forms of magnesium, and that each has a different purpose or effect on your body. Some forms are easier for your body to absorb than others—a characteristic known as “bioavailability”.

Magnesium chloride

Probably the most common type of magnesium used in supplements, magnesium chloride is extracted from natural sources in rock or saltwater. All BetterYou’s magnesium supplements use a highly pure kind of magnesium chloride taken from the Earth’s crust.

It’s used in both:

  • oral magnesium supplements—those you take by mouth, such as pills and tablets
  • transdermal supplements—those you absorb through the skin, such as oils, bath flakes, lotions and sprays (also known as topical magnesium)

How it helps muscle tension

Magnesium chloride is known to be effective at treating muscle spasms. It:

  • helps relieve muscle tension, tightness and stiffness
  • aids working muscle tissue, allowing for quicker muscle recovery after strenuous exercise
  • enables calcium absorption in bones (see “Muscle spasms” above)

Other benefits

  • Said to have the best bioavailability—in other words, the body can absorb it better than any other forms of magnesium
  • Encourages restful sleep and improves sleep quality
  • Aids digestion
  • Repairs and replenishes skin

Magnesium sulphate

Better known as Epsom salts, magnesium sulphate contains magnesium, sulphur and oxygen. Like magnesium chloride, it can be taken transdermally (through the skin) or orally.

Most people take Epsom salts by dissolving them in a hot bath or foot soak. As they have a lower concentration of magnesium than magnesium chloride, they have a lower bioavailability too.

How it helps muscle tension

Magnesium sulphate has analgesic properties that help to soothes sore muscles.

Other benefits

  • Draws toxins out of the pores
  • Laxative effects help relieve constipation (when taken as tablets)

Magnesium malate

Magnesium malate is made by combining magnesium with malic acid, which is found in fruits such as oranges. Together they make a magnesium salt that has a higher level of bioavailability than other forms such as magnesium oxide and magnesium sulphate.

How it helps muscle tension

Magnesium malate relieves muscle tension by relaxing tense areas.

Other benefits

  • Supports hundreds of enzyme processes inside the body
  • Helps the cells in your body produce and use energy

Because the body has so much muscle tissue, tension is extremely common and can occur in nearly every area. Mostly it comes as a result of straining the muscle during physical activity, or injuring the muscle doing strenuous work or exercise.

Neck tension in particular is usually the result of a strain—for example, through exercise, heavy lifting or sitting, standing or sleeping in an awkward position. Back tension is also very common and can occur in joints and bones as well as the muscles and soft tissue. It might come as a mild but constant ache or a sudden, sharp soreness.

However, there are also certain medical conditions that cause muscle tension. These include:

  • fibromyalgia
  • flu, or other similar infections
  • thyroid problems
  • being potassium-deficient

Having a magnesium deficiency can have a major effect on how your body feels during your menstrual cycle. A lack of magnesium in your body means your muscles are more prone to contracting and inflammation. This is the cause of the very severe spasms that you might feel when menstruating.

And as magnesium acts as a relaxant, it also helps relieve the headaches and mood symptoms that can accompany monthly menstruation.


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