Muscle Cramps: Have you ever experienced a “charley horse”? If yes, you probably still remember the sudden, tight and intense pain caused by a muscle locked in spasm.
A cramp is an involuntary and forcibly contracted muscle that does not relax. Cramps can affect any muscle under your voluntary control (skeletal muscle). Muscles that span two joints are most prone to cramping. Cramps can involve part or all of a muscle, or several muscles in a group.
The most commonly affected muscle groups are:
* Back of lower leg/calf (gastrocnemius)
* Back of thigh (hamstrings)
* Front of thigh (quadriceps)
* Cramps in the feet, hands, arms, abdomen, and along the rib cage are also very common.
Who Gets Cramps? Just about everyone will experience a muscle cramp sometime in life. It can happen while you play tennis or golf, bowl, swim, or do any exercise. It can also happen while you sit, walk, or even just sleep. Sometimes the slightest movement that shortens a muscle can trigger a cramp.
Some people are predisposed to muscle cramps and get them regularly with any physical exertion.
Those at greatest risk for cramps and other ailments related to excess heat include infants and young children, people over age 65, and those who are ill, overweight, overexert during work or exercise, or take drugs or certain medications.
Muscle cramps are very common among endurance athletes (i.e., marathon runners and triathletes) and older people who perform strenuous physical activities.
Causes: Although the exact cause of muscle cramps is unknown (idiopathic), some researchers believe inadequate stretching and muscle fatigue leads to abnormalities in mechanisms that control muscle contraction. Other factors may also be involved, including poor conditioning, exercising or working in intense heat, dehydration and depletion of salt and minerals (electrolytes).
* Stretching and Muscle Fatigue
* Heat, Dehydration and Electrolyte Depletion
See your doctor if cramps are severe, happen frequently, respond poorly to simple treatments, or are not related to obvious causes like strenuous exercise. You could have problems with circulation, nerves, metabolism, hormones, medications, or nutrition.
Muscle cramps may be a part of many conditions that range from minor to severe, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), spinal nerve irritation or compression (radiculopathy), hardening of the arteries, narrowing of the spinal canal (stenosis), thyroid disease, chronic infections, and cirrhosis of the liver.
Prevention: To avoid future cramps, work toward better overall fitness. Do regular flexibility exercises before and after you work out to stretch muscle groups most prone to cramping.
If you are experiencing frequent muscle cramps the Physicians at TOCA are hear to help. To learn more visit our website at: www.tocamd.com or call 602-277-6211.
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