Diaphragm Spasm

The diaphragm is the strongest and largest muscle in the body. It divides the chest cavity and the abdomen, and plays an important role in the respiratory functions of the body. When the diaphragm contracts, it induces a decreased intrapleural pressure, which causes the rib cage to expand within the zone of apposition; the positive intra-abdominal pressure, and this expansion of the rib cage allows air to be drawn into the lungs.

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Diaphragm spasm is a condition where the diaphragm function is hindered, leading to poor breathing. Hiccups, Strain, a physical knock on the diaphragm and a Hiatal Hernia are the main causes of diaphragm spasm.


The symptoms of diaphragm spasms are the sudden rushing of air into the lungs, a sort of gasp, which is commonly known as a hiccup. There is a slight tightening of the throat and chest just before the hiccup comes along. The vocal cords and the larynx close suddenly as the air ruches into the lungs during a diaphragm spasm.

One cannot control diaphragm spasm and they occur repetitively; basically you have no way of knowing when they will occur. When the diaphragm contracts in an erratic way or out of rhythm, then the patient is said to be having diaphragm spasms. The spasms start for no apparent reason and can end just as suddenly as they start. Usually the spasms will only last for a few minutes and can be stopped by simply holding the breath or bending over. Persistent diaphragm spasms are those that last for over 48 hours. Intractable diaphragm spasms are those that last for periods of over 2 months. One should seek medical attention when having prolonged periods of spasms since they can affect eating patterns, disturb sleep and cause general insomnia. This will lead to exhaustion, dehydrations, malnutrition and weight loss.

Causes of Diaphragm Spasm

There are four main causes of diaphragm spasm and here they are:

Temporary or transient diaphragm spasm

This is what is commonly referred to as “getting the wind knocked out of your body”. A sudden blow, application of pressure or falling on your back can cause this type of spasm. This is mainly common in contact sports, or when you get in a fight and our opponent wants to incapacitate you. You may experience some temporary paralysis of the diaphragm which leaves you gasping for air. There is usually no need for treatment when you get this type of diaphragm spasm.

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Hiccups or synchronous diaphragm spasm or flutter

This is the sudden and unexpected contraction of the diaphragm, which occurs repetitively. It starts with a reflex arc, which leads to the contraction of the diaphragm, which causes the vocal cords to close as air rushes into the lungs, and you produce the characteristic “hic” sound.

Diaphragm strain

This is a kind of diaphragm spasm that can bring about a Hiatal Hernia, whereby the stomach extends and pushes through the diaphragm. This causes the muscle to weaken and strain, leading to acid reflux, and also circulatory problems.

Bornholm disease – epidemic transient diaphragm spasm

This is an actual disease that affects the diaphragm. The Coxsackie virus is the main cause of the disease, and can be passed from one person to another through contact, such as drinking from the same containers etc. This virus is found in tropical areas or during the summer months in temperate areas.

This type of spasm is accompanied by fever, intense pain on one side of the chest, and headaches. The chest pain makes it hard to move the chest and breathing is labored. This is not a life-threatening condition, and is treated using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. In order to reduce the pain, one can use warm compresses.

Treatment of Diaphragm Spasm

When you have diaphragm spasms for a long time, then you should see your doctor. It is possible for spasms to bring about mental health problems, hysteria and even heart attacks. The doctor will give you the correct treatment when he diagnoses the type and cause of the spasms that you are suffering from.

When you suffer from a Hiatal Hernia, the diaphragm muscle has to be pushed so it can release the stomach. Only a doctor can do this.

When you have hiccups that last for longer than 48 hours, a doctor will determine what is causing this and give you the appropriate treatment.

When you suffer a blow to the diaphragm or fall on your back, you will be winded but this should go away soon.  If you suffer pain after that, you can just use painkillers.  This kind of trauma to the diaphragm is not life threatening, but if the pain is too much and lasts for too long then you might need to seek medical attention so as to determine if there is damage to the muscle itself.

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