Cramps can last anywhere from a few seconds to a quarter of an hour, and occasionally longer. It is not uncommon for a cramp to recur several times before finally going away. The cramp may involve a part of a muscle, the entire muscle, or several muscles that usually act together.
A muscle cramp is a forcibly contracted muscle that does not relax. Any of the muscles under voluntary control can cramp. Cramps of the extremities are very common, especially the legs and feet, and particularly the calf. However, a nervous tic such as on the eye lids is also a type of muscular spasm
Characteristically, a cramp is painful, often severely so. Usually, the sufferer must stop whatever activity is they are performing and seek relief from the cramp. Severe cramps may be associated with soreness and swelling, which can occasionally persist up to several days after the cramp has subsided. At the time of cramping, the knotted muscle will bulge, feel very firm, and may be tender
Nutrient deficiencies– Deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals are known to be a factor in gout. These include certain B vitamins as well as calcium and magnesium. A deficiency in calcium or magnesium leads to an increase in the excitability of both the nerve endings and the muscles they stimulate, predisposing the muscle to a spasm. Low levels of calcium and magnesium are common in older people, pregnancy and any circumstance that decreases the availability of calcium or magnesium in body fluids. These include; diuretics, hyperventilation, excessive vomiting, poor diet, poor function of the parathyroid gland (regulates calcium balance) and other conditions. A Vitamin and Mineral Screen gives a comprehensive overview of nutrient status and can be used to target key deficiencies that may be exacerbating your symptoms. A nutritional therapist can then provide diet and supplement recommendations to help reduce the incidence of cramps.
Dehydration – Depletion of body fluids from poor fluid intake or regular use of diuretics (medicine that promote urination) and may predispose you to cramps. Sports and warm weather can also cause excessive fluid and electrolyte loss from perspiration. Electrolytes are constituents of the blood that help control fluid balance, so this kind of dehydration is even more likely to lead to cramps. The problem is many people find drinking the correct amount of water difficult and this is commonly because they are not absorbing it properly. In order to prevent cramps it is important to replace not just fluids but also the electrolytes. If you regularly suffer from cramps, a nutritional therapist can show you techniques to gradually increase you water intake whilst ensuring you properly absorb it. This will make drinking regularly an easy habit to stick to.
Medication – Numerous medicines can cause cramps. Diuretic medications deplete both body fluid and electrolytes, which can also cause cramps. Certain medications for Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, angina, high blood pressure, asthma and cholesterol lowering drugs can also lead to cramps. If you regularly use these pharmaceuticals and suffer from cramps it may be advisable to consult a nutritional therapist who will also be able to help you manage this side effect and may in some cases be able to support you through your underlying condition, reducing your need for medication.
Poor circulation – Poor circulation to the legs results in inadequate oxygen to the muscle tissue, which can then lead to cramping or a numb tingling sensation, especially in the lower legs. It’s important to see your doctor if you have pain like this, as it is often a result of a condition called peripheral vascular disease which is caused by gradual thickening and hardening of the walls of the arteries. This is common in diabetics, smokers and people with cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. However, if you suffer from any of these conditions and want to take preventative steps, a nutritional therapist can put together a specific protocol for you to address the underlying condition as well as improving your general circulation.
Overuse – Muscle fatigue from exercise or overuse of a muscle results in a build up a chemical called lactic acid. This occurs because the body cannot meet the oxygen demand of the heavily working muscle. Lactic acid is known to be a contributing factor in cramps. If you regularly experience exercise related cramps, a nutritional therapist will be able to advice you training techniques and supplements which can help reduce lactic acid build up and muscle fatigue. Not only will this reduce cramps, it can also help improve performance.
Low thyroid function – The thyroid gland produces hormones which determine how quickly nutrients are converted into energy and how efficiently food is burned within the body. If your thyroid gland is not working well, body muscles fatigue very quickly and cramps become much more likely. Some of the other symptoms of a low thyroid include tiredness, cold hands and feet, weight gain and depression. If you think hypothyroidism may be a factor in your cramps you might want to consider A Thyroid Test. Smart Nutrition could then use the results to put together a diet and supplement plan for you with the aim of boosting thyroid function and reducing cramps.
Arsenic toxicity – Muscle cramps are one of the primary symptoms of arsenic toxicity. Arsenic can be found in pesticides, laundry aids, tobacco smoke, smog, bone meal, dolomite, kelp, table salt, beer, seafood and drinking water. People who work in pesticide production, agricultural insecticide spraying, copper smelting, mining, sheep dipping and metallurgical industries are at an increased risk of developing an arsenic toxicity. If you are concerned about your arsenic exposure you might like to have A Hair Mineral Analysis Test done. If you find out that you do have an arsenic toxicity a nutritional therapist can advise you on key dietary changes and supplements to assist toxin removal.
Injury – Sometimes the muscles surrounding the injury may spasm as a protective mechanism when injury such as a broken bone or strained muscle occurs. In this case the spasm tends to minimize movement and stabilise the area of injury. These kind of cramps normally recover once the injury has repaired.