What are Muscle Cramps?
A muscle cramp occurs when your muscle involuntarily contracts and does not relax, and becomes locked in a spasm. It can occur at any time, most often when you least expect it during activities such as exercising, swimming, playing golf, sleeping, or after sitting too long in one place without moving or flexing a muscle. Muscle cramps can last anywhere from a few seconds to fifteen minutes or longer, and can recur several times before going away.
Cramps can affect any muscle under our voluntary control known as skeletal muscles such as the legs, feet, hands and arms. They generally occur in three different muscle groups including the back of the lower leg or calf called the gastrocnemius muscle, the back of the thigh or hamstrings and the front of the thigh, quadriceps. Muscle cramps can also affect various organs of the body such as the stomach, uterus, blood vessel wall, intestinal tract, biliary system, bronchial tree and urinary passages. Muscle cramps have different degrees of intensity and vary from a slight twitch to excruciating pain.
Cramps can affect anyone but they are more common in adults than in children. Endurance athletes such as marathon runners and tri-athletes get muscle cramps regularly because they exert themselves physically. Older people, specifically over the age of 65, are also more predisposed to cramps because they become less active and lose muscle. People who are ill, overweight, take drugs or certain medications, or people who perform strenuous physical activities are at risk of developing cramps.
Diagnosing Muscle Cramps
The common signs and symptoms of a muscle cramp include:
* Muscle pain
* Loss of muscle function
* Abnormal muscle rigidity
* Loss of muscle contraction control
* Pain in the affected area
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
Muscle cramps can occur as a result of:
* Electrolyte imbalance (not enough fluid in the body and lack of sodium, magnesium, calcium and potassium)
* Numerous medications
* Vitamin deficiencies
* Inactivity and poor circulation
Muscle cramps are usually not serious and can be easily treated. Anti-inflammatory medication may sometimes be recommended to relieve inflammation and ease the cramps. If muscle cramps are severe and occur often, it is advisable to consult a doctor to discover the underlying cause. They could be indicative of more serious conditions such as osteoporosis, thyroid disease, cirrhosis of the liver and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Using herbal and homeopathic remedies as a natural approach to treating muscle cramps, can alleviate symptoms without the harmful side effects of conventional medicine. Herbs such as Passiflora incarnata and White Willow can help to relax the muscles and provide pain relief, while biochemical tissue salts such as Mag. phos. can treat and prevent recurring muscle cramps.
Complementary therapies can also provide all round support and encompass holistic healing, addressing physical, mental and emotional health. There are various natural and alternative therapies to relieve recurring muscle cramps and pain. These include:
* Ayurvedic practices
* Relaxation and meditation
Tips to Relieve Muscle Cramps
* Gently stretch and massage the cramping muscle holding it in stretched position until the cramp stops.
* Apply heat packs to tense, tight muscles, or ice to sore, tender muscles.
* Drink plenty of fluids at regular intervals, so as not dehydrate.
* Increase your intake of calcium, magnesium and Vitamin E supplements.
* Massage therapy and acupuncture can increase the blood flow.