Dr Tendai Zuze
MUSCLE cramps are sudden and involuntary contractions of one or more of your muscles. Cramps are generally harmless though they can cause severe pain and make it temporarily impossible to use the affected limb. This is a common complaint.
Overuse of a muscle, dehydration, muscle strain or simply holding a position for a prolonged period of time may result in a muscle cramp.
In many cases, however, the exact cause of a muscle cramp isn’t known. Although most muscle cramps are harmless, some may be related to an underlying medical condition, such as:
Inadequate blood supply. Narrowing of the arteries that deliver blood to your legs (arteriosclerosis of the extremities) can produce cramp-like pain in your legs and feet while you are exercising. These cramps usually go away soon after you stop exercising.
Nerve compression. Compression of nerves in your spine can produce cramp-like pain in your legs. The pain usually worsens the longer you walk. Walking in a slightly bent forward position — like you would do when pushing a shopping trolley— may improve or delay the onset of your symptoms.
Mineral depletion. Too little potassium, calcium or magnesium in your diet can contribute to leg cramps. Diuretics — medications often prescribed for high blood pressure — may also deplete these minerals.
Factors that may increase your risk of muscle cramps include:
Age. Older people lose muscle mass, so the remaining muscle may get overstressed more easily. This may increase the risk for muscle cramps.
Dehydration. Athletes who become fatigued and dehydrated while participating in warm-weather sports frequently develop muscle cramps.
Pregnancy. Muscle cramps are more common during pregnancy.
Medical conditions. You may be at higher risk of muscle cramps if you have diabetes, or nerve, liver or thyroid disorders.
Treatment of cramps involves correcting the underlying problem and your doctor will prescribe medication where necessary. Vitamin B supplements sometimes help with cramps in some people.
If you have a cramp, the following might help relieve your discomfort:
Stretch and massage. Stretch the cramped muscle and gently rub it to help it relax. For a calf cramp, put your weight on your cramped leg and bend your knee slightly. If you’re unable to stand, sit on the floor or in a chair with your affected leg extended. Try pulling the top of your foot on the affected side toward your head while your leg remains in a straightened position. This will also help ease a back thigh (hamstring) cramp. For a front thigh (quadriceps) cramp, use a chair to steady yourself and try pulling your foot on the affected side up toward your buttock.
Apply heat or cold. Use a warm towel or heating pad on tense or tight muscles. Taking a warm bath or directing the stream of a hot shower onto the cramped muscle also can help. Alternatively, massaging the cramped muscle with ice may relieve pain.
These steps may help prevent cramps:
Avoid dehydration. Drink plenty of liquids every day. The exact amount depends on what you eat, your sex, your level of activity, the weather, your health, your age and any medications you may be taking. Fluids help your muscles contract and relax and keep muscle cells hydrated and less irritable
Stretch your muscles. Stretch before and after you use any muscle for an extended period. If you tend to have leg cramps at night, stretch before bedtime. Light exercise, such as riding a stationary bicycle for a few minutes before bedtime, also may help prevent cramps while you’re sleeping.
If you suffer from any sort of cramp please visit your doctor.