Cramp can be described as a muscle spasm, an involuntary contraction of one or more muscles where they suddenly shorten which causes pain. Cramps generally last around a few seconds but can last up to 10 minutes. They commonly occur in the lower leg but can be in the front or back of the thigh/arms/abdomen and in between the ribs (intercostals muscles).
There has been much research on cramp and what causes it. Many predisposing factors exist but in some there is no reason why.
There is evidence that (1:3) over 60’s report increasing frequency of cramp.
Some Reasons For Cramp
- Lack of vitamins/minerals (esp. magnesium) in a healthy balanced diet (no surprise there this one always comes up)
- Over exertion of muscles (so not uncommon to induce in a class)
- Dehydration (do you drink enough water, especially when exercising?)
- Conditions that affect the body’s electrolytes. Anything that directly affects the sodium or potassium levels in your body. So the balance of salts in your bloodstream?
- Excess alcohol
- Poor circulation
- Some medication can cause cramp – it’s always worth checking the notes (under side effects) that come with any medication that you may take
Cramps are not uncommon at night especially as we get older (as for mentioned), some people have such severe cramps that they receive medication for it (i.e. quinine bisulphate) this is generally as a last resort. We know tonic water contains a very small amount of quinine which some have tried in seek of self help and is widely reported to help in some.
How to treat cramp (calf)?
I’ve chosen the calf muscles as it’s quite common but you can apply this to any muscle. Stretching, the two main muscles in your calves are gastrocnemius and soleus they need to be stretched in two different ways but with both stretches, the heel remains down. In the first, the knee will be straight and in the second the knee is taken off lock – the second stretch will feel like the stretch has moved slightly further down the calf i.e. towards the second arrow in the diagram.
Finally, eating a balanced diet, sourcing all the vitamins and minerals from food rather than a multivitamin is always nutritionally best.