Tuesday 10 July 2012
Muscle cramps are defined as an involuntary contraction of a muscle. These can last anywhere from a few seconds, all the way up to several minutes. Cramping is associated with the hyper-excitability, or hyperactivity of the nerve endings within muscle tissue.
Many people experience cramps when they sleep, which can be associated with excruciating pain. Athletes, on the other hand, tend to develop muscle cramps when they are exercising. An occasional, minor cramp here and there is probably inevitable, but for the most part, muscle cramps can be prevented with proper care and attention to a few details:
Dehydration - Can occur in athletes when exercising in hot and humid conditions and not drinking sufficient liquid. A dehydrated muscle is very prone to muscle cramps. Many athletes who think they drink enough water do not drink enough water. Drink more water! Hint: if urine is dark yellow or you’ve lost pounds in a day, you’re most likely dehydrated.
Overheating - Dehydration will cause the body/muscle tissues to overheat much more rapidly. This dehydration/overheating combination is another factor in causing muscle cramps. When active in high temperatures, make sure to stay hydrated.
Water 'Intoxication' - Excessive intake of water and sweating can ‘wash’ electrolytes (minerals) out of your body and lead to cramps. It happens when electrolyte levels, primarily sodium, are dangerously low in the body. Drink water, but don’t forget to replace your electrolytes.
Water retention - Sodium and the other electrolytes are essential for retaining water in the bodily tissues, including muscle. If you are deficient in these minerals, you may remain dehydrated & at risk for cramps, no matter how much water you drink.
Mineral deficiency - There are four minerals that can influence how a muscle contracts, namely calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium.
Vitamin D – Essential for the absorption of calcium. Without sufficient vitamin D, much/most of the dietary calcium goes to waste. Vitamin D also plays a role in magnesium absorption, and probably plays a role in the absorption of other mineral as well, to a smaller degree. Some good sources of vitamin D include exposure to sunlight, free-range eggs, sardines & salmon, dried beans and legumes and raw nuts & seeds.
Essential Oils - Massage the cramping area with essential oils such as lavender or chamomile. Add one drop of each or two drops of a single oil to 1tsp (5ml) of any carrier oil. Lavender is pain-relieving, and chamomile helps to reduce spasm and inflammation.
Homeopathy - Arnica cream rubbed gently over the affected area may help if you have intense cramps that leave a bruised sensation in your muscles.
Herbal Remedies - Herbs that may help with painful muscle cramps:
Restricted Circulation - Restricted blood flow to a working muscle can cause muscle cramping. While it is probably not nearly as common as water & nutrient deficiencies, it is still important to be aware of the possibility. Tight clothing or bands during an activity or in bed could potentially restrict blood flow to a certain degree, which could or could not be enough to trigger cramping. Wear comfortable, loosely fitting clothes at all times, as constriction of the blood supply to muscles can cause them to contract painfully.
Massage/Hot and Cold - When a muscle is cramping, circulation may be restricted to that area. Vigorously massaging and kneading the affected muscle will help to boost circulation to the area. The application of a heating balm can help to increase blood flow. One of the best ways to quickly boost circulation is with the use of alternating hot (warm water or hot pack) and cold (ice) applications. Apply the cold application tightly for 10-15 seconds, then alternate with the hot application for 10-15 seconds. Repeat until you notice relief. Hot packs are often not available during sports events, so do not count on being able to use this method. Soaking the cramping area in a warm Epson salt or sea salt bath will sooth it and help replenish electrolytes to the area.
Lack of fitness - Well-trained muscles are less likely to cramp. Although this mainly applies to athletes, people who are not fit and get little exercise often develop cramps because their muscles are so poorly used.
Stretching and Increased Flexibility - Stretching a cramped muscle out can help to temporarily relieve a muscle cramps. Use a slow, sustained stretch, rather than quick and forceful ones. In some events, where resources and time are limited, stretching may be the only thing you are able to do. A muscle that is overly tight can also be a factor in causing muscle cramps. When flexibility is not sufficient for the activity being performed, and it is interfering with the desired movements, then it becomes a factor in causing cramping.