A muscle cramp is an uncontrollable and painful spasm of a muscle. Any muscle can be affected, but the muscles of the calf and foot are particularly prone. The exact cause of muscle cramp is not known, and are usually harmless but may sometimes be symptomatic of an underlying medical disorder. Regular or severe cramping that lasts longer than a few minutes should always be investigated by your doctor. Risk factors may include:
- Poor physical condition including tight, inflexible muscles
- Inadequate diet
- Physical overexertion or exertion of cold muscles
- Muscle injury and/or fatigue
- Dehydration – caused by, for example, a bout of gastroenteritis
- Reduced blood supply (ischaemia)
- Wearing high-heeled shoes for lengthy periods.
Treatment options include:
- Stretch and massage – lengthen the cramping muscle using a gentle, sustained stretch then lightly massage the area until the cramp subsides. If you are unsure how to stretch the cramping muscles, see your Massage Therapist for advice.
- Icepack – in cases of severe cramp, an icepack applied for a few minutes may help the muscle to relax.
- Medication – some medications can be helpful to control muscle cramps. See your doctor for further information.
Suggestions on how to reduce the likelihood of muscle cramp include:
- Increase your level of physical fitness and incorporate regular stretching into your fitness routine.
- Warm up and cool down thoroughly whenever you undertake physical activity (eg work in an active job, play sport, etc)
- Make sure your diet is nutritionally adequate, and include plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Wear properly fitted shoes and avoid high heels.
Minerals and electrolytes
There has been a lot of discussion about muscle cramps being caused by insufficient salt and/or water in our diets. Muscle tissue relies, in part, on a range of minerals, electrolytes and other chemicals in order to contract and relax. Some of these important substances include calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. By eating a healthy, well balanced diet your body will be able to maintain healthy levels of these substances. If you are more active than sedentary you may consider Electrolyte water and similar liquids (e.g., sports drinks such as Gatorade), during exercise rather than before or after. Experts suggest watering down these energy drinks in a 1:2 mix – that is a 600ml bottle of sports drink mixed in with 1.2 liter bottle of water. Water, in comparison, should be taken before, during and after exercise, regardless of how intense or long the exercise regimen may be.