Article by Shane Armfield
What is a Cramp?
A cramp is defined as a spontaneous or involuntary electrical activity of a large number of skeletal muscle fibres that quickly develops into a painful, sustained contraction (muscle spasm).
Cramps can be divided into two categories:
As their names suggest, EAMC occur during/post exercise and nocturnal cramps occur, by definition, at nighttime. If the contraction is severe enough it can cause you to enter a state of functional disability or, if nocturnal, sleep disturbance.
What Causes a Cramp?
Although similar in presentation, the cause of both EAMC and nocturnal cramps differ.
Unfortunately, the exact cause of a cramp is not fully understood but there are a number of hypothesis for both EAMC and nocturnal cramps as outlined below.
What Causes Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC)?
Potential causes of EAMC include:
What Causes Nocturnal Cramps?
Potential causes of Nocturnal Cramps include:
Other Causes of Cramps
Leg cramps that occur during daily activities and also during the nighttime should be investigated in a bit more detail to rule out the following medical conditions:
Medications that Cause Cramps
Finally, some medications can induce cramping such as, but not limited to: diuretics, calcium channel blockers - such as nifedipine, long-acting ß2-agonists, steroids, lithium, statins, cimetidine.
NOTE: if you are concerned that your medication may be causing cramps please consult your doctor or pharmacist.
What to do When You Cramp
If you experience a cramp, the quickest way to relieve it is to stretch it out - i.e. if you get a cramp in your calf, stretch your calf by pulling your toes towards your knee. There is some evidence showing that drinking a highly salty drink (e.g. pickle juice) can relieve a cramp. Finally, it sounds simple but move out of the position that caused you to cramp.
If cramps are a regular occurrence for you, see one of our physiotherapists for a stretching routine that will ease the cramp when it comes on but also prevent it from occurring.
How to Prevent a Cramp
Taking the aforementioned causes of cramps into account, steps can be taken to prevent the onset of a cramp:
Treatment for Cramps
The first and foremost priority of treatment for cramps is identifying the root cause of your cramps. Whether this be tight muscles, over-exercising or a cause that requires further investigation. Our physiotherapists are experienced in finding out what it is that is causing your cramps and will point you in the right direction.
Depending on what our physiotherapists find, treatment may involve:
Investigating the Cause of Your Cramps
At PhysioWorks, we work closely with our dietitians and we would often refer our patients to them if we believe the cause of your cramps is from a diet / lifestyle origin.
It is always helpful to seek the advice of your doctor regarding repeated episodes of cramps. They may organise further assessment eg ultrasound, MRI, blood tests etc.
If you have any further question please ask your physiotherapist.
Cramp Treatment Options
Helpful Products for Cramps
Myalgia, or muscle pain, can have many sources. Here are some of the more common sources of your muscle pain. Please click the links for more information.
Neck & Back Sources:
Upper Limb Sources:
Systemic Causes of Myalgia
More Information: Myalgia
FAQs about Cramps
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