Muscle Cramps

Muscle Cramps

Cramps occur when a muscle contracts painfully and involuntarily.

Symptoms

  • Sudden, involuntary and painful muscle contraction
  • The muscles of the calves and feet are most frequently affected
  • Other common locations include the muscles of the neck, shoulders and back
  • Abdominal cramps may be a feature of gastrointestinal disease (e.g. Irritable Bowel Syndrome), Cystitis or Period Pain
  • Most cramps are transient, resolving themselves after a few moments

Causes

  • Cramping pain in the chest, shoulders or arms may be symptomatic of a heart attack. If you are even mildly concerned that you or somebody else may have had a heart attack, call for an ambulance immediately - urgent medical attention is vital, and it is better to be safe than sorry
  • Mineral and electrolyte imbalances are a common cause of cramp, and may be a consequence of poor diet, the use of certain medicines (e.g. blood pressure medication), or significant electrolyte loss due to strenuous exercise or high temperatures. Magnesium and potassium are the minerals most commonly implicated
  • Muscle twitches (e.g. of the eyelids) are also suggestive of magnesium deficiency
  • Tight, inflexible and unconditioned muscles may be more prone to cramp
  • Stress causes muscle tension, and may trigger or exacerbate cramping tendencies
  • Cramps in the legs that occur during walking may be symptomatic of Circulatory Problems such as peripheral arterial disease, a condition associated with high Cholesterol and atherosclerosis (plaque in the arteries)
  • Cramp in the buttocks that radiates down the leg may be symptomatic of sciatica

Nutritional & Herbal Solutions

  • Magnesium helps to relieve tense or contracted muscles and also supports the body's ability to cope with Stress
  • Calming herbs such as valerian, skullcap and hops may also help to relieve muscle cramps and spasms, and have additional benefits during times of nervous tension and Stress, especially when taken in combination with potassium phosphate, calcium phosphate and magnesium phosphate
  • St John's wort has traditionally been used for the management of nerve pain such as sciatica. However, note that you should not take St John's wort and prescribed medicines simultaneously, as it may interfere with the actions of some drugs (including certain antidepressants and the oral contraceptive pill)

Diet & Lifestyle advice

  • Severe, recurrent or persistent cramps or spasms may be indicative of underlying disease, and require medical investigation
  • If you are concerned that your cramps may be a side effect of your medication, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Do not stop taking your medicines without talking to your doctor
  • Eat a well-balanced, nutritionally varied diet, with an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lean high quality protein
  • Drink at least two litres of water every day - even more if you live, work or exercise in a hot environment, or are prone to perspiring profusely. An electrolyte replacement formula may also be beneficial
  • During a cramp, stretch the affected area and rub or massage the area, applying an ice pack may also assist with leg, neck, shoulder or back cramps
  • Abdominal cramps may respond better to warmth, such as a hot water bottle or heat pack
  • Take the time to warm up and stretch before exercising strenuously, and stretch again at the end of your training session
  • Consider adding yoga or stretch classes to your exercise routine to improve your flexibility
  • Avoid wearing high-heeled or ill-fitting shoes, which may pre-dispose you to leg cramps
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants, which may promote muscle tension

If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional. Information provided is of a general nature and should not replace that of your healthcare professional.

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