It has, unfortunately, happened to most of us… you're in the middle of a great workout, walking down the street, or even rolling over in bed at night, when suddenly you are overcome with horrible pain. A cramp! You clutch at your seizing muscle, rubbing at it to release, rocking back and forth as you wait for the cramp to pass and relief to come.
Cramping muscles are certainly not a fun experience, and while they may sometimes seem to strike at random, they give us important information regarding the health of our muscles and body. So, what exactly do cramps mean, and what can you do to prevent them? Read on below for more information.
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
Cramps often result for simple reasons, such as overuse of a muscle, not drinking enough water, or holding a position for a lengthened period of time. However, in some cases, muscle cramps can be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as:
- Mineral depletion - cramps may be a sign that your body has a deficit of one or more important minerals. Common culprits include potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The best solution for this is natural food such as a banana for potassium, salmon with a salad for calcium, and pumpkin seeds for magnesium. An amazing site for finding out your recommended daily intake as well as suggestions for foods can be found by clicking here.
- Inadequate blood supply - if your muscles are not receiving enough oxygen during exercise, they will produce lactic acid in order to provide energy for activity. As this lactic acid builds up, it can cause cramping sensations in the muscle tissues, but these cramps usually go away shortly after you stop exercising. Inadequate blood supply can continue even once exercise stops. There are several reasons for this including excessive training or ramping up training too quickly after being inactive or less active. The physiotherapists at Granville Physio can suggest appropriate training regimens to eliminate this problem and provide treatment to remove the ache and cramp sensation. Additionally, if muscles are left too tight the pressure they place on the muscle may be greater than your blood pressure which means the blood flow to the muscle will be less than required to remove waste products and provide Nutrition.
- Central nervous system fatigue - the central nervous system (CNS) regulates the interactions between our nerves and muscular system, which in turn allows our muscles to activate and function as they do. However, if the feedback communication with the muscles is overused, the CNS can become fatigued. When this happens, there is dysfunction in what is called the nerve-muscle reflex arc; muscle spindles become hyperactive, as the nerves that normally signal them to relax are inhibited. It is believed that prolonged sitting, poor posture, or even imbalances in regular movement and alignment can result in malfunctioning reflex arcs. Assessing biomechanical problems, IMS therapy, or even incorporating the use of orthotics or Sole insoles are all potential treatment options.
- Nerve compression - if nerves along the spine are being compressed, the tissues that they innervate can experience cramp-like pain. For example, if compression occurs in the L2/L3 region of your spine (which innervate the thighs), you may experience cramping pain in your thigh muscles as a result. Additionally, peripheral nerves may be compressed and cause localized issues which is the case in conditions such as compartment syndrome. Treatment options such as IMS therapy can be extremely effective in relieving both of these conditions.
How Can I prevent Cramps?
In some cases, it can be impossible to understand the reason why you have experienced a muscle cramp. However, by monitoring the frequency and timing of your muscle cramps (Do they always occur after exercise? Did you forget your water bottle at home again?), you may be able to find a pattern to your cramping tendencies. Ensuring that your muscles are healthy and stretched, and using techniques like foam rolling or tennis ball release (click on the links to read more about what our physiotherapists recommend for these), can help to reduce and prevent future cramping episodes. Taking B vitamin supplements may also provide relief and prevent future cramping episodes, for some individuals. Applying ice and/or heat, massaging the cramping area, taking an Epsom salt bath, and drinking plenty of water are also common home-treatment options.
I Get Frequent cramps, what should I do?
If your cramps persist after trying out our tips above, or you are struggling to properly stretch out your muscles, our expert physiotherapists here at Granville Physio (James Rowan, Damien Wild, and Jim Bowie) are happy to help you target your tight zones and provide individualized guidance on stretching and maintenance. Click here to book in today!