The Story of Cramps

Through the duration of my massage and bodywork practice, one of the most commonly brought up issues by clients I have worked with, is cramps.  I am frequently asked, “Why do I get cramps” and “what can I do to prevent them”.  So, here is the long, “short” story of cramps.

Skeletal muscle cramps occur in muscles that we voluntarily control, such as the muscles that are involved in walking.  A muscle consists of specialized contractile cells, muscle fibers, which are grouped together in an organized way.  Each fiber consists of thread like structures, thick and thin myofilaments which are formed and composed of proteins, myosin and actin, respectively.  When a muscle contracts, the fibers first attach to each other by establishing bridges, and then pull or “ratchet” themselves past each other, which causes a muscle to contract.  In order for these bridges between the myofilaments to form properly, calcium must be present.  

If a muscle, or even a few fibers of a muscle, involuntarily contracts and does not relax, it is called a spasm.  If the spasm is forceful and sustained, it becomes a cramp.  The most common areas of skeletal muscle cramps occur in the calves, thighs and arches of the feet.  Cramps are associated with intense and strenuous activity, but can occur while relaxing, as in nocturnal leg cramps, which happen during sleep.  Potential contributing factors of muscle cramps include:  low levels of certain minerals (calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium), dehydration, nmuscle fatigue, pregnancy, certain medications, and reduced blood flow through muscles that are in a prolonged sitting or lying down position.  In the event of a cramp, apply pressure by walking it out, and/or stretching the affected area, which usually causes it to cease. 

To help keep cramps at bay, stay hydrated, replace electrolytes after strenuous activity (especially in extreme heat), stretch and massage the muscles involved, and investigate possible mineral deficiencies that may need to be addressed with diet and/or supplements.  Keeping a food journal while also logging exercise, medications/supplements taken and  symptoms/ailments that arise, can be extremely helpful in unraveling the messages the body is trying to convey. In chronic, persistent situations, medical advice is always advised and recommended.

On a metaphysical side note, since we are emotional beings as well as physical beings, Louise L. Hay states in her book, Heal Your Body, that probable emotional components of cramps are tension, fear, gripping and holding on.  She suggests implementing a new thought pattern by repeating this healing affirmation:  I relax and allow my mind to be peaceful. 

Thanks for reading and may you be blessed on your journey of healing and body awareness.

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