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Muscle Cramps FAQs

What Is A Muscle Cramp?

A muscle cramp is an involuntary, painful, spasmodic contraction of a muscle that does not relax. It causes a visible hardening of the muscle and can last from a couple of seconds to ten minutes. They are extremely common and it is thought that almost everyone (95%+) experiences cramp at some point in their life. Cramps mainly affect the calf muscles and small muscles in the feet, and usually occur at rest or at night. After having cramp, the muscle can be tender for up to 24 hours and may feel uncomfortable. Cramps are usually harmless, but sometimes they can be an indicator of an underlying medical condition. In any case, regular or severe cramping that lasts longer than a few minutes should be investigated by a doctor.

What Causes Muscle Cramps?

There are a wide range of possible causes of muscle cramps so it is often difficult to identify the exact reason for their occurrence. Factors that contribute to muscle cramps can include:
Muscle cramp in calf
  • Poor physical condition
  • Tight, inflexible muscles
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Muscle injury / fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive perspiration - sweat is high in sodium and loss of sodium upsets the way your muscles work
  • Physical overexertion
  • Reduced blood supply, possibly caused by atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries)
  • Wearing high-heeled shoes for lengthy periods
  • Pregnancy, usually in the later stages
  • An untreated underactive thyroid gland
  • Some uncommon nerve disorders
  • Night cramps (overstretching a muscle that is already extended in your sleep)

Who Is At Risk From Muscle Cramps?

Prevalence of muscle cramps increases with age, with ⅓ of people over the age of 60 and half of people over 80 complaining of cramps. Pregnant women also complain of cramps, usually during the latter stages of pregnancy. Cramps are also common in children from the age of 12 as they are growing up, and usually become most frequent between the ages of 16 - 18.

How Can I Relieve Cramp?

When you are experiencing cramp in your calf, the best thing to do for relief is to grasp the muscle in one hand, whilst reaching forward and pulling back on your toes of that leg with the other hand, so your toes are pointing upwards and slightly back on themselves. This helps to gently stretch out the muscle and relieve the spasm. An icepack applied to the affected muscle for a few minutes will help to relax the muscle by reducing the blood circulation in that area.

How Can I Prevent Cramp?

Fortunately, there is a lot that you can do to minimise the risk of muscle cramps. Here is a list of things you should be doing to keep your muscles flexible and healthy:
  • Regular calf stretches, e.g. when you wake up in the morning and after sitting down for long periods of time
  • Incorporate thorough stretching into your fitness routine
  • Drinking plenty of fluid before, during and after exercise, as well as in general
  • Warm up thoroughly before exercise and warm down after
  • Massages can help to reduce muscle tension
  • Wear suitable footwear for what you are doing and avoid wearing high heels for extended periods of time
  • Quinine can be used as a dietary supplement to reduce frequency and severity of muscle cramps; however, you should always consult a doctor before turning to this, as they will need to assess your medical history before recommending this
We have a wide range of treatments for muscular pain.
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