Manage your muscle cramps
It’s happened before on occasion. From the bliss of sound sleep, you’re suddenly awakened by a painful muscle cramp in your lower leg. Lately, though, you’ve being awakened by leg cramps several times a week. Should you be concerned? Muscle cramps like this are fairly common among athletes and older adults. Many times they’re harmless. But they can sometimes be brought on by certain medications or they may indicate the presence of certain disorders.
Your muscles are made of many fibres that can contract and relax. This allows the fibres to shorten and lengthen according to the movement you’re making at the time.
Muscle cramps differ from stiffness or leg pain. A cramp occurs when a muscle contracts involuntarily in a sudden, intense manner, producing a lump of tightened muscle you can feel with your hand. It’s typically a response to a stress or chemical imbalance in the muscle’s environment.
Sorting Out The Cause
Some common causes of muscle cramps include: Muscle overuse, strain or prolonged exercise. Being dehydrated and losing too much salt due to exercise or due to prolonged illness involving vomiting or diarrhoea. Certain medications. Low levels of blood calcium. Less commonly, muscle cramps may be caused by diseases affecting your peripheral nerves – the nerves that extend from your spinal cord to nearly all other parts of your body. Peripheral nerves are the conductors of information between your brain and your organs, blood vessels, muscles and skin. Damage to a peripheral nerve (peripheral neuropathy) can interrupt communication lines between the brain and the area served by the damaged nerve. Peripheral neuropathy that produces muscle cramping may occur with a number of conditions, including diabetes, thyroid disease and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
When To See Your Doctor
Muscle cramps often have no identifiable cause. But if you have frequent, severe muscle cramps, a doctor’s visit is appropriate. You’ll likely have tests that include a neurologic exam and possibly
other testing. You may be referred to a specialist in neuromuscular diseases.
What You Can Do
Below are several preventive steps you can take to curb or avoid muscle cramps: Drink fluids to avoid dehydration – rehydrating with sport drinks is advisable with sustained heavy exercise and sweating. Warm up before more intense exercise. Cool down and stretch after. Avoid over-working muscles. Before bed, gently stretch muscles that tend to cramp at night. If you do get a leg or foot cramp, gently stretch the contracted muscle for relief. You may find it helps to compress or massage the affected muscle. Sometimes a heating pad or hot bath may offer relief. If your muscle cramps don’t respond to these preventive measures, your doctor may suggest taking medication, such as quinine, to help relieve cramping. However, quinine is known to cause potentially serious blood reactions in some people. Discuss with your doctor the pros and cons of its use as well as what other medication options might be suitable.