Muscle Cramps are debilitating and require immediate attention

Health
Tuesday, 03 November 2015 1085 Views 0 Comments
Muscle Cramps are debilitating and require immediate attention

By Shailja Kaushik

Chances are you would have experienced a muscle cramp at some point in your life. Though not serious, it can be a frustrating condition because muscle cramps are debilitating and require immediate attention.

What are muscle cramps?

Tightening of the skeletal muscle that brings about intense and painful spasms, lasting for a few seconds to a couple of minutes, is known as a muscle cramp. Most people complain of muscle cramps during the night while sleeping. Commonly involved muscle groups are back of the lower leg/calf, back or front of the thigh.

Muscle cramps are very annoying and affect even highly fit athletes. Runners may experience muscle cramps at any point of time – even during or right after the competition. However, nocturnal muscle cramps may or may not be associated with exercise and physical activity.

There are two types of exercise-associated muscle cramps:

  1. The first type is caused by overuse of skeletal muscles which results in muscle fatigue and subsequently cramps. Age, higher intensity and duration of exercise, poor stretching and unconditioned muscles are the risk factors.
  2. The second type is a result of electrolyte imbalance. If an athlete has been sweating a lot, it leads to significant electrolyte disturbances especially loss of sodium and chloride. This may occur during or after a long match, game or race.

Causes

Muscle cramps are caused by a variety of reasons such as muscle overuse, stress, dehydration, intense exercise and heat. Many a times the exact cause of muscle cramp remains unknown. Sometimes, just sitting or standing in one position for a long time may also result in a muscle cramp.

Some muscle cramps may indicate an underlying medical condition such as decreased blood supply, compression of spinal nerves or depletion of minerals such as magnesium, calcium or potassium. Mineral depletion also occurs during pregnancy. Certain medications such as antipsychotics, diuretics, steroids, birth control pills or statins may also lead to muscle cramps.

Symptoms

Sudden sharp pain that feels like spasms is the typical symptom of a muscle cramp.

Prevention

Observe these following measures:

  1. Stay hydrated by drinking adequate water
  2. Avoid alcohol
  3. Eat healthy foods that are rich in minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium
  4. Before going to bed, stretch your muscles
  5. Keep your muscles conditioned by riding a bike
  6. Increase your exercise gradually rather than suddenly
  7. Keep your energy reservoir high by consuming adequate quantity of carbohydrates
  8. Do stretching exercises to keep the muscles well-conditioned

Treatment

Muscle cramps can be treated with self-care measures. Treatment of muscle cramps involves rest, stretching exercises and holding the muscle in an extended position, until the activated muscle is relieved. Usually, muscle cramps go away themselves. However, you should seek immediate medical attention if you experience severe discomfort, leg swelling, redness or skin discoloration.

References:

W.Larry Kenney; Jack Wilmore; David Costill. Physiology of Sport and Exercise. 6th edition. Human Kinetics. 2015.

Steve Bentley. Exercise-induced muscle cramps. Proposed mechanism and management. Sports Med. 1996.

(Dr. Rohan Habbu is an Orthopedic Hand, Nerve & upper Extremity Surgeon. He has done Fellowship in Arthroscopy & Sports Surgery and is an avid runner. To know more, reach out to him on rohanhabbu@gmail.com or +91 982017 13941)

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