What are muscle cramps?
A cramp is an involuntary forceful contraction of a muscle that does not relax. They usually last around 15 to 30 seconds before dissipating and at times can last for over 15 minutes. Cramps can range from an annoying symptom to a regular event that start to limit performance and affect quality of life. They occur at all ages but do become more prevalent as we age.
What causes cramps?
Cramps can be associated with a number of causes and are often a result of a combination of factors. True cramps often involve a part or all of a muscle that act together e.g. finger flexors. Commonly strenuous activity can bring on cramps either during or even many hours after. Similarly, rest cramps are also extremely common. Muscles don't like to stay still for too long and many people will be aware of how often night cramps can occur. This type of cramping seems to be ongoing for a large number of the population and leads us to explore the many facets of cramps.
Dehydration and cramps
Sports that involve extreme levels of activity particularly in hot environments cause loss of fluids and electrolytes that can lead to cramping. We see a number of our marathon runners struggling towards the end of their races due to a combination of fluid loss, mineral depletion and extreme exertion. Steps can and should be taken to decrease the chance of cramps during any event.
Magnesium and calcium for cramps
Calcium and magnesium work together in the body to regulate numerous important reactions. It is often understood that a muscle contraction occurs from calcium ions rushing into the cell. Magnesium acts as a blocker or regulator of this mechanism and both are extremely important for normal muscle function.
Can trigger points cause cramps?
Put simply, YES. Very commonly the tight knots in your muscles can increase the risk of cramps. Most people do not understand the important role trigger points play in causing cramps as well as holding the key to relieve and eliminate them. As you start to understand how these tight knots or trigger points behave you can learn how to ease your own cramps and prevent them from returning in sport as well as life.
Can vitamin deficiency cause cramps?
Yes. Vitamin deficiencies most definitely cause cramping, particularly B vitamins including B1, B5 and B6. Be aware if your cramps are worse after alcohol. If this is the case you might want to consult your doctor and discuss supplement options.
What are some other causes of muscle cramps?
Cramps can be associated with numerous conditions, poor circulation (claudication), neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, nutrition, as a reaction to medication and more. It is important to consult your health care professional if cramping is ongoing to determine the true cause.
How do you treat cramps?
The traditional way to treat cramps is by stretching them. You will often see sports trainers on a football field pushing like mad on a cramping athlete. In my clinical experience that is a little crazy. If you start to understand the myofascial (trigger point) component of muscle cramps you can tackle them way more specifically and effectively. If you ever see someone who gets foot cramps at night, ask them what they do to relieve it. More often than not they will talk about walking on cool tiles and it just goes. Herein lies one of the secrets of cramps: cold will relieve them immediately. On the sporting field we use cold sprays. If your cramps are severe enough you can get cold spray from the chemist and keep it beside the bed. When that is not available use a piece of ice in a hand towel. Stroke the ice directly on the cramping area cleaning the drips with the towel as you go.
The other way to relieve cramps immediately is to use 'trigger pointing' which is applying pressure to the trigger point associated with the cramp. It is important you have a bit of information before commencing this type of self release strategy so talk to your health professional to get a home program for relieving the tension that leads to cramps. When you get some simple skills you can be extremely effective in easing and preventing your own cramps and empowering yourself for life.
How do you prevent cramps?
Preventing cramps is a holistic strategy. It is useful to start utilising a total body stretch routine to optimise posture and ease tightness throughout the body. Research suggests that we do a thorough stretch post exercise avoiding vigorous stretching before an event. Start looking at proper nutrition. If your diet is lacking magnesium, zinc, calcium, B vitamins discuss supplement options with your health practitioner. Make sure you always get enough fluid and electrolytes particularly when doing strenuous activities in the heat. Try to replace fluid in the first hour after exercise.
Be aware of the benefits of using cold spray or ice, particularly after a game or event. Notice many footballers use a cold ocean swim as a recovery strategy. Also talk with your health professional to structure a trigger point self release program for your specific cramp symptoms. Commonly you can use that strategy prior to rest to completely prevent symptoms long term.
For more information on how to prevent your cramps please call 07 3847 8040 or Click Here to book a consultation online.