A muscle cramp is an involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscle that does not relax. Almost everyone experiences a muscle cramp at some time in their life. There are a variety of types and causes of muscle cramps. Numerous medicines can cause muscle cramps. Most muscle cramps can be stopped if the muscle can be stretched. Muscle cramps can often be prevented by measures such as adequate nutrition and hydration, attention to safety when exercising, and attention to ergonomic factors.
In general, cramps are a sign that things are out of balance.
Another, less serious, reason for leg cramps is that the electrolytes are out of balance. Electrolytes are the chemicals that help the muscle contract, the main ones being sodium, potassium, and calcium. If any of these gets out of whack, the muscle doesn’t work like it should, resulting in cramping. This electrolyte imbalance is often the cause of those painful cramps that wake you up at night
In addition to claudication and electrolyte imbalance, the last of the major causes of leg cramps are medications. Besides the aforementioned diuretics, other medications, such as blood pressure and cholesterol drugs, can make the muscles ache and even cramp up.
Sometimes the cramps are a mystery. A good portion of the time, leg cramps at night don’t have a clear cause. That makes their treatment more challenging (and it drives both doctor and patient a little crazy).
Most cases of leg cramps can be treated with exercises. There are two types of exercise that you can do:
- exercises you do during an episode of cramping to relieve the pain and stop the cramping
- exercises you do during the day to reduce how often you get leg cramps
The two types of exercises are explained below.
Exercises during cramps
During an episode of leg cramp, stretch and massage the affected muscle.
For example, if the cramp is in your calf muscle:
- Straighten your leg and lift your foot upwards, bending it at the ankle so that your toes point towards your shin.
- Walk around on your heels for a few minutes.
Exercises to prevent cramps
To reduce your risk of getting leg cramps in the future, you should do exercises to stretch the affected muscles three times a day.
For example, if your calf muscles are affected by cramps, the following exercise should be beneficial:
- stand about a metre away from a wall
- lean forward with your arms outstretched to touch the wall while keeping the soles of your feet flat on the floor
hold this position for five seconds before releasing
Repeat the exercise for five minutes.