Muscle cramp involves a sudden, involuntary contraction and tightening of a muscle that will not immediately relax. It can range in intensity from a slight twitch to a severe contraction, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to many minutes. The most common muscle groups affected are the calf muscles, the upper leg, the feet and hands. A muscle cramp is common among endurance athletes and people over 65 who perform strenuous physical activity.
Causes of Cramp
The main factors that contribute to muscle cramp are:
Other factors include working or exercising in high heat and humidity, inadequate blood supply, injury or muscle strain, and excessive alcohol, drugs, and medication use.
Treating Muscle Cramp
Muscle cramps and spasms will usually go away on their own, but there are a few steps you can take to decrease their severity and duration:
Preventing Muscle Cramp
Improving your cardiovascular fitness will improve blood delivery to your muscles, ensuring adequate amounts of oxygen and nutrients to function correctly.
Stretching will keep your muscles loose and flexible and help stop them from tightening up and cramping.
You should be consuming at least 8 to 10 glasses of filtered water a day and more if you are involved in strenuous physical activity or live and work in high heat and humidity.
If you are prone to muscle cramps, you should also increase your intake of minerals and electrolytes. The most important minerals are Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium. Adding a small amount of mineral salt to your cooking (such as sea salt or Celtic salt) will increase your intake of these essential minerals.
If you suffer from bad cramps at frequent intervals, especially at night, you should see your doctor as you may have circulatory problems.
Research by Bentley (1996) indicates that there are no proven strategies for the prevention of exercise-induced muscle cramp, but regular muscle stretching using post-isometric relaxation techniques, correction of muscle balance and posture, adequate conditioning for the activity, mental preparation for competition and avoiding provocative drugs may be beneficial. Other strategies such as incorporating plyometrics or eccentric muscle strengthening into training programmes, maintaining adequate carbohydrate reserves during competition or treating myofascial trigger points are speculative and require investigation.
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