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bibliography*The PainScience Bibliography contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers and others sources, like a specialized blog. This page is about a single scientific paper in the bibliography, Johnson 1989.

The myth of skeletal muscle spasm


Tags: biology, muscle, debunkery

PainSci summary of Johnson 1989?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided at the bottom of the page, as often as possible. ★★★☆☆?3-star ratings are for typical studies with no more (or less) than the usual common problems. Ratings are a highly subjective opinion, and subject to revision at any time. If you think this paper has been incorrectly rated, please let me know.

In this editorial from 1989, Dr. Ernst W. Johnson decries the “preposterous” widespread attribution of unexplained musculoskeletal pain to “spasm,” describing “overwhelming evidence that skeletal muscle spasm is nonexistent.” He believes that it’s a simplistic non-diagnosis with strong emotional appeal to both doctors and patients, and therefore cynically exploited by pharmaceutical companies to sell a treatment (muscle relaxants).

Although I agree that most unexplained musculoskeletal pain has nothing to do with “spasms,” I wish I knew what “overwhelming evidence” debunks the myth: he only mentions one 1950 study that I can’t find, and a replication of it that he was involved in that I also cannot find. He describes a study of 50 people with neck and/or shoulder discomfort, none of whom “had EMG evidence of muscle activity in the area of pain or in the proximal paraspinal muscle.”

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These five articles on cite Johnson 1989 as a source:

This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights: