Don’t cramp my style

News posted by Nikki Harris

Introduction

A muscle cramp is a spontaneous or involuntary electrical activity of a large number of skeletal muscle fibres that quickly develops into a painful, sustained contraction (muscle spasm).

Muscle cramps are divided into two categories:

  1. Exercise-associated muscle cramps (EAMC)
  2. Nocturnal muscle cramps

EAMC occur during and/or after exercise, whilst nocturnal muscle cramps occur at night time.

Causes

Although similar in presentation, the cause of both EAMC and nocturnal cramps differ.  The exact cause of a muscle cramp is not fully understood, but there are a number of hypotheses for each type.

(a) Potential causes for EAMC

  • Overuse that fatigues the affected muscle, reducing fibre lengthening between contractions
  • Altered neuromuscular control
  • Dehydration and altered electrolyte imbalance secondary to extensive sweating
  • Incomplete recovery from a previous episode of cramping
  • A muscle can be predisposed to cramping if the resting muscle length is short.  This can be exacerbated by a fatigued muscle
  • Pregnancy

(b) Potential causes for nocturnal cramps

  • Dehydration from chronic insufficient fluid intake
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Electrolyte imbalances (low magnesium, calcium or potassium)
  • Short resting muscle length
  • Poor blood circulation
  • Pregnancy

(c) Other causes

The following medical conditions should be ruled out by a GP if a person is encountering regular muscle cramps.

  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Uremia (raised levels of urea and other nitrogenous waste in the blood)
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Alpha motor neuron disorders

(d) Side effects of medications

Some medications can induce cramping (e.g. diuretics, calcium channel blockers, long-acting ß2-agonists, steroids, lithium and statins).

If a person suspects that their medication may be causing muscle cramps, they should consult their GP.

Relief

The quickest way to relieve a muscle cramp is to slowly stretch it out.  Secondly, some evidence suggests that drinking a highly salty drink (e.g. the juice from a jar of pickled onions) can also swiftly relieve a muscle cramp.  Lastly, tentatively moving out of the position that caused you to cramp in the first place can also help.

Prevention

  • Drink plenty of water (2 litres a day)
  • Reduce coffee and/or alcohol consumption
  • Stretch the large muscle groups of the lower extremity regularly (e.g calves, hamstrings, gluteals, quadriceps)
  • Magnesium supplementation (seek advice from your GP or a pharmacist)
  • Warm up thoroughly before exercise
  • Stay hydrated before and throughout exercise

Treatment

Identifying the root cause of a person’s muscle cramps is the key to successful treatment.  At Woburn Osteopaths we will aim to:

  • Lengthen hypertonic (tight / shortened) muscle groups
  • Restore joint range of motion
  • Strengthen weak muscles
  • Advise on lifestyle modifications (e.g. hydration, reducing coffee / alcohol consumption, magnesium supplementation, electrolyte balancing)
  • Modify current exercise regimes

If you would like to discuss any aspect of your muscle cramping further, please do not hesitate to get in touch: 01525 290615 / [email protected]

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