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Muscle Cramp

Muscle cramp involve 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 and last 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. Muscle cramp is common among endurance athletes and people over 65 years of age who perform strenuous physical activity.

Causes of Cramp

The main factors that contribute to muscle cramp are:

  • Poor flexibility and tight muscles
  • Muscle fatigue and overuse
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte and mineral depletion

Other factors include working or exercising in high heat and humidity, inadequate blood supply, injury or muscle strain and excessive use of alcohol, drugs and medication.

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:

  1. Stop the activity that triggered the cramp in the first place
  2. Gently stretch the effected muscle or muscle group
  3. Keep the effected areas moving with light activity and gentle massage
  4. Continue to apply heat and massage to help promote blood flow

Preventing Muscle Cramp

Improving your cardiovascular fitness will improve the delivery of blood to your muscles, which will ensure that they have adequate amounts of oxygen and nutrients to function properly.

Stretching will keep your muscles loose and flexible and will help to 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 cramp you should also look at increasing your intake of minerals and electrolytes. The minerals that are most important are Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium. Simply adding a small amount of mineral salt to your cooking, (such as sea salt or Celtic salt) will help to increase your intake of these important minerals.

If you suffer from bad cramp at frequently intervals, especially at night, you should see your doctor as you may have circulatory problems.

Research by Bentley (1996)[1] 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.


References

  1. BENTLEY, S. (1996) Exercise-induced muscle cramp. Sports medicine, 21 (6), p. 409-420

Related References

The following references provide additional information on this topic:

  • EATON, J. M. (1989) Is this really a muscle cramp? Postgraduate medicine, 86 (3), p. 227-232
  • JANSEN, P. H. et al. (1990) Muscle cramp: main theories as to aetiology. European archives of psychiatry and neurological sciences, 239 (5), p. 337-342

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2002) Muscle Cramp [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/cramp.htm [Accessed

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