The muscle cramp is that pain in the muscle that can hardly be confused and you remember it for a long time. Most often it occurs in the leg muscles and I’m sure you have experienced it least once in your life. Muscle cramps are so common that happen to someone in each of my classes. In order for me to be useful, I must first tell you what the cramp actually is.
Cramps are very common not only among athletes but among people with sedentary lifestyles, too. A muscle cramp is an involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscle that does not relax. It can last anywhere from a few seconds to a quarter of an hour. The cramp may involve a part of a muscle, the entire muscle, or several muscles that usually act together. Cramps are categorized according to their different causes and the muscle groups they affect.
Types of muscle cramps
True cramps – These are the most common cramps and can affect a whole muscle group or just a part of the muscle. They are caused by hyperexcitability of the nerves that stimulate the muscles. The causes can be different as follows:
- Activity – Vigorous muscle activity can cause a cramp before or after a workout. Likewise, muscle fatigue from sitting or lying for an extended period in an awkward position or any repetitive use can cause cramps.
- Injury – A cramp may occur as a protective mechanism of the muscle in order to limit movement in the area of the injury.
- Dehydration – Dehydration mainly occurs during hot days. Sports and other physical activities can also cause excessive fluid loss from perspiration, increasing the likelihood of true cramps.
- Low potassium levels — Low potassium blood levels cause muscle weakness and cramps.
- Low Magnesium and Calcium levels — Low blood levels of either calcium or magnesium directly increase the excitability of both the nerve endings and the muscles, thus causing cramps. This may be due to the intake of diuretics, vitamin D deficiency, inadequate calcium and/or magnesium in the diet, or severe vomiting.
Rest cramps – They occur most often at night and in the calf area. The actual cause of this type of cramps is unknown.
Tetany cramps – This is a type of cramp that affects all nerve endings in the body. Often, such cramps are accompanied by hyperactivity of other nerve functions in addition to muscle stimulation. For instance, low blood calcium not only causes spasm of the muscles of the hands and wrists, but it can also cause a sensation of numbness and tingling around the mouth and other areas.
Contracture — They occur when the muscle is unable to relax. They are caused by runout of ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) – the principal molecule for storing and transferring energy in cells.
Dystonic cramps – They affect muscles that are not needed for the intended movement are stimulated to contract, such as jaw, eyelids, larynx, etc.
Muscle cramps relief and prevention
If you have a cramp, these actions may provide relief:
- Try stretching the cramped
- For cramps of the feet and legs a slight walk may help.
- If the spasm is in the arm or forearm, press the palm of your hand against flat surface to stretch the entire area.
- Drink water.
- And a remedy I know from one teacher of mine — press the cramped muscle for a few seconds and then relax. For me this the most effective way to stop a muscle cramp.
If you often have cramps and want to prevent them, start stretching before and after exercise or sports, along with an adequate warm-up and cool-down. Also don’t forget to drink enough water. To calculate the right amount for you, read Martin Dimitrov’s article “How to calculate how much water you should drink”.