What is a tetanic contraction?

A tetanic contraction is a painful, spastic muscle contraction associated with tetanus infection. Tetanic contractions can vary in severity and affect muscles throughout the body. Fractures and muscle injuries can occur if the contractions are severe. Treatment to relieve tetanic contraction usually involves antibiotics and surgery. If the contractions are not treated properly, death can occur.

Tetanus infection, also known as lockjaw, is caused by exposure to Clostridium tetani (C. tetani), a bacteria commonly found in dirt. An exposed wound is the most common entry point for the bacteria. After entering the body, the bacteria introduce tetanospasmin, a toxin that inhibits nerve and muscle function, initiating a tetanized state.

Tetanospasmin blocks nerve signals that inhibit motor neuron function. When nerve signals are scrambled or intermittent, motor neurons can be overstimulated by mixed communication. Persistent overstimulation causes muscles to contract without release; Episodes can last a few seconds or more than several minutes. Once the nerve signals return to normal, the contractions subside and the affected muscles relax.

Tetanic contractions frequently affect the jaw, hence the nickname notch. Drooling commonly occurs with jaw contractions. The muscles of the neck, torso, back, and extremities may also contract. A severe and prolonged tetanic contraction can stretch muscles to the point of tearing and, when they affect the back, put the spine at risk of fracture.

Additional signs and symptoms may accompany a tetanic contraction. People who experience one in the neck and torso may have difficulty swallowing and breathing. It is not uncommon for people with tetanic contraction and infection to develop stiffness, fever, and malaise. In the middle of a contraction, some may have an elevated heart rate and blood pressure. Personality changes, such as irritability, may also occur.

If tetanic contractions are allowed to progress without treatment, vital body functions can quickly be compromised. For example, tetanic contractions can compromise your ability to breathe, putting you at risk for a heart attack. Prolonged oxygen deprivation can also increase the chance of irreversible brain damage. Another complication associated with tetanic contractions involving the torso includes an increased risk of pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Treatment for a tetanic contraction involves removing the toxic infection from the body. Antibiotics are given to clear the infection, and in some cases, tetanus immune globulin is given to counteract tetanospasmin. Relaxing and sedating medications may be used to relieve contractions and promote rest. Surgery is usually done to remove infection, pus, and any foreign matter that may have gotten into the wound.

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