A cramp is an involuntary or spontaneous electrical activity of the skeletal muscle fibers that rapidly develops into a sore, prolonged contraction.
It is important to note that cramps can be categorized into 2 groups:
- Exercise-associated muscle cramps
- Nocturnal cramping
For the type associated with exercise, it arises during or after physical activity while the nocturnal type occurs at nighttime. If the contraction is significant enough, it can lead to a state of functional disability or sleep disruption for the nocturnal type.
What are the causes?
Even though both forms of cramp are the same in presentation, their causes differ. It is sad to note that the precise cause of a cramp is not completely understood but there are a variety of potential causes.
- Overuse that tires the affected muscle and reduces the lengthening of the fiber between contractions
- Dehydration and altered electrolyte imbalance due to excessive sweating
- Altered neuromuscular control
- Partial recovery from a previous cramping episode
- Loss of electrolytes from sweating during physical exertion
- In case the resting muscle length is short, it is predisposed to cramps
- Dehydration due to chronic poor intake of fluid
- Poor blood circulation
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Shortened resting muscle length
What should I do if cramp starts?
When an individual has a cramp, the initial move to quickly relieve one is to stretch it out. A simple approach is to move out of the position that triggered the cramping.
In case the cramp occurs regularly, a physiotherapist must be consulted so that a stretching regimen can be started to ease the discomfort once it arises but also prevent it from occurring.
How to manage a cramp
The treatment for a cramp is started by identifying the main cause. Depending on the findings during the assessment, the commonly used treatment options include:
- Restoring the range of motion of the joint
- Lengthening of the hypertonic muscles
- Strengthening of weakened muscles
- Lifestyle modifications such as increased fluid intake, limiting the intake of caffeine or alcoholic beverages and maintaining proper balance of vitamins and electrolytes.
- Modifying any exercise regimen
There are steps that can be taken to prevent the onset of a cramp such as:
- Increase the intake of water and limit caffeinated or alcoholic drinks
- Regular stretching program especially one that focuses on the hamstrings, calves, quadriceps and gluteals.
- Perform proper warm-up and keep the body hydrated before and during any physical activity.
- Electrolyte supplements can be taken but consult a doctor first.
More Information / Disclaimer
The information posted on this page on a cramp is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage this muscular condition by taking a standard first aid course with Vancouver First Aid.