Overview and Definition
A common complaint at the practice where I work is that of skeletal muscle cramps, that is, cramps of the muscles involved in moving the limbs. A spasm is an involuntary muscle contraction. If the spasm is prolonged, it becomes a cramp. Thus, a muscle cramp is defined by emedicinehealth.com as: “an involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscle that does not relax”.
Muscle cramps appear to be more prevalent in the older male patients; however, it can affect anyone. Muscle cramping occurs most commonly in the lower limbs, particularly the calf muscles, hamstrings and the feet.
Those of you who have experienced muscle cramps will know that they can range from extremely uncomfortable to excruciatingly painful. These cramps may last for a few seconds to several minutes. One can generally see and feel the tight, hardened muscle underneath the skin.
Causes of muscle cramps may be dietary related – dehydration, or low levels of calcium, potassium or magnesium. They are often caused by prolonged physical exertion or can be due to nerve or muscle injury. Cramps can also be caused by certain medications; this may be listed as a side-effect. (emedicinehealth.com)
The intense pain associated with muscle cramps often results in one tensing the affected muscle even more. In order to relieve a muscle cramp, one needs to relax the involved muscle. Heat and gentle massage may assist in relaxing the muscle, and stretching can aid in relieving symptoms and reducing spasms. The underlying causes, such as dietary deficiencies, must also be addressed. (emedicinehealth.com)
So, next time you are rudely awoken in the middle of the night with that familiar intense pain in your calf muscle, try to stretch out the muscle and gently massage it until the symptoms subside.