Previously we discussed the difference between a muscle spasm, a muscle cramp, and muscle guarding. Now that we know what they are, we can talk about what you really want to know-How to prevent and treat muscle cramps. What works for one doesn’t always work for the other and in some cases can even increase pain.
How to Prevent and Treat Muscle Cramps
The nature of muscle cramps is a topic of hot discussion with scientists. Muscle cramps have been attributed to:
- Exercise, injuries, or overuse of muscles.
- Mineral deficiencies – particularly – calcium, potassium and magnesium. This is especially common in later months of pregnancy.
- Cold temperatures, especially cold water.
- Medical conditions, including peripheral arterial disease, thyroid disease, multiple sclerosis, kidney disease or any circulation issues.
- Sleeping in an awkward position, standing on a hard surface for an extended time or sitting for too long.
- Dehydration – where your body has lost too much fluid.
- Medications like antipsychotics, birth control pills, diuretics, statins, and steroids.
Most recently science has offered some new prospects on what can trigger muscle cramps and how to treat muscle cramps. Dr. Rod MacKinnon, a Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist, has uncovered that muscle cramps are caused by the nerve, not the muscle. Your muscles cramp up when motor neurons in your spinal cord start firing off spontaneously and repetitively. His research also revealed that stimulating the sensory nerves in the mouth, esophagus and stomach triggers a response from the nervous system and calms down the motor neurons in the spinal cord. This led to the development of HOT SHOT, a product which is taken before and after exercising in order to prevent and treat cramping. Its unique formula stimulates sensory neurons in the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. Neurons are now stimulated and send impulses to the spinal cord, the impulses override and stop repetitive signals coming to and from the site of the cramp. The repetitive signals are stopped preventing or treating cramps.
Some people find consuming mustard and/or pickle juice helps relieve or prevent cramps. Much like Hot Shot, this mechanism seems to be linked to the nervous rather than muscular system. Coaches will often have athletes drink pickle juice or eat a mustard packet to balance out a deficiency in acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates your muscles to work.
This doesn’t discount all of the conditions listed above which have been known to contribute to cramps. It may very well be that these conditions are what trigger the nerves to send the impulses. So you should still take care of your body – hydrate it, stretch properly and nourish it. If you do find yourself with a painful cramp or soreness – treat it. Once again, hydrate, stretch, nourish and get a massage from a trained professional. A massage from a well-meaning family member may do more harm than good in this situation!
If you do get a cramp try these tips to alleviate the pain –
- Leg and foot cramps can be helped by firmly pressing on the upper lip. The upper lip is the meridian which is connected to the legs and feet.
- Hot showers can help immensely with cramping. Get the water get as hot as possible and allow it to run down your legs. This will help relax your muscles.
- If you wake up with a leg cramp stretch your leg straight out and bend the toes back toward your head. Hold for 30 seconds, relax, and repeat until the cramp is gone. This stretches out your calf muscle. Alternately, do this standing up – push your heel onto the floor and bend your toes upward. This forces the calf muscle to lengthen.
- A stretching regimen before bed can also help with leg cramping at night. Press your toes against a wall to stretch out the calf muscles; hold for 30 seconds, relax, repeat several times.
Preventing and Treating Muscle Guarding
Muscle guarding is a condition that really can not be prevented. It is a natural reflex from the body in response to an injury or a perceived injury. The condition becomes problematic when the injury has healed but the body continues to send signals to splint and protect the area. Chronic muscle guarding can lead to sore muscles, pain and tenderness in the area and tension in the tendons. Furthermore – the symptoms continue to tell the brain to protect the muscles. Muscle guarding leads to muscle fatigue and the potential for more injuries so it must be treated properly.
You might be tempted to have someone begin massaging the site of the pain only to discover that only causes more pain and soreness and the body reacts by guarding even further. A skilled professional will work with you to determine what is contributing to the muscle guarding. From there a course of treatment can be developed that may include physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic and more. Whatever you do – don’t ignore the pain or resolve to just tough your way through it – you need to treat muscle cramps. You deserve to be pain free and enjoying life!