What Is A Muscle Cramp?
Muscle spasms or cramps are painful and involuntary contractions of a muscle. They cause your muscles to tense up and may feel knotted and hard to the touch. You may even be able to see the knot.
While they do not cause any lasting damage, they should be reported to your doctor or physiotherapist if they do not self resolve, occur frequently or last for longer than a few minutes. Your healthcare practitioner will want to ensure that there are no underlying health conditions that could be causing the cramping.
It is possible to experience cramps while doing physical exercise or at night while you are asleep. Nighttime cramps are called nocturnal leg cramps.
Common Muscle Spasm Causes
It may not be possible to pinpoint one specific reason for muscle cramps, but some of the more common muscle spasm causes include
- Muscles that are tired and tight
- Being unfit or in a poor physical state
- Having weak muscle tone
- Eating a diet low in nutritional value
- Sweating excessively
- Overexerting yourself physically
- Muscle fatigue
- Being dehydrated (possible as a result of illness)
- Restricted blood supply to the affected area
Other muscle spasm causes
Certain medical conditions are associated with an increase in muscle cramps. Some examples include
Patients feel pain in their legs and buttocks as a result of pressure being exerted on the nerves in the lower back.
Certain types of medication
Some chronic health conditions require patients to take fluid pills, which can upset their electrolyte balance.
When fatty deposits line your arteries it can cause blood restrictions, which results in muscle cramping.
Muscle Spasm Causes: Mineral And Electrolyte Imbalances
Your muscles need a complex balance of electrolytes and minerals in order to be able to relax and contract. Some of the most important minerals include magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium.
If you are dehydrated, have been vomiting or experienced a bout of diarrhoea, it is possible to upset the balance of minerals in your body.
If you are training hard for an event or are under any other kind of stress, it could be taking a toll on your electrolyte balance.
Muscle Spasm Causes: Nocturnal Leg Cramp
If you have been getting leg cramps at night, it could be as a result of:
- Sitting still for extended periods of time during the day
- Standing on concrete floors
- Not sitting correctly
- Overworking or underusing your muscles
Physiotherapy can help you to improve your posture and ergonomics, as well as strengthen your muscles to make you less prone to cramping.
Who Is At Risk Of Muscle Cramp?
Muscle cramps can affect anyone, at any stage of life, but they may be more common if you
- Are pregnant
- Are overweight
- If you have certain nerve or thyroid disorders
What Treatments Can Help With Muscle Spasms?
Certain treatment modalities may be recommended to ease muscle spasms when they strike. There are no conclusive studies that prove one treatment to be better than another and often treatments are combined to be most effective. Some options include
Stretching And Massage
Physiotherapy sessions featuring stretching exercises and gentle massage can ease tight cramped muscles. Knowing how to warm up and cool down before and after exercise can also help to reduce muscle spasms and cramps.
Your physiotherapist may recommend cold or warm heat therapy to ease your muscles. Hot water bottles or cold compresses may help to alleviate muscle cramps.
If other treatment options do not help, medication may be recommended to ease the discomfort of muscle spasms.
Prevention Strategies To Ward Off Muscle Cramps
There are measures you can take to reduce your chance of having muscle cramps. Investing in physiotherapy sessions can help you to learn the correct exercise techniques to protect your muscles.
- Increase Your Physical Fitness
- Make sure you stretch and tone as part of your exercise regime
- Make sure you are always well hydrated. This is important before, during and after exercise but also when you go about your day to day activities
- Review your diet to ensure it is balanced and wholesome
What To Expect?
You may be given a physical examination and will be asked to disclose your full medical history. Before making a recommendation for treatment, a physiotherapist may want to know.
- How intense the pain feels
- Is there a pattern to when the spasms occur?
- How long the spasms last
- When you first started experiencing them
- If you’re experiencing any other symptoms.
To find out more about what could be causing your muscle cramps, or how you can adjust your fitness routine to be more comfortable, please contact us for an appointment: (02) 9884 9300.