Muscle cramps, what they are and what you can do about them…

ADVICE

Muscle cramps can be a real pain..........

A common problem among my clients is muscle cramps, so I have looked at the latest research and summarised the advice to save you spending hours on the internet trying to find the relevant information.

What are muscle cramps?
Muscle cramps can range from an inconvenience lasting a few seconds to severely debilitating pain lasting 15 minutes or more. While it is a problem normally associated with exercise, it can also occur in non-athletes i.e. the majority of my clients.

Cramp can affect any muscle in the body and occurs when muscle fibres contract involuntarily and fail to relax normally. They are most common in muscles that cross over two joints e.g. the calf muscles, hamstring muscles (back of your thigh) and the quadriceps muscles (front of your thigh). Other areas that can be affected include the hands, stomach muscles and smaller muscles of the feet and toes.

What causes muscle cramps?
Despite extensive research, the exact cause of the problem is still a mystery. It is known that cramps occur when the mechanisms controlling muscle contraction and relaxation fail to work properly, resulting in the contraction lasting too long.

There are a number of factors that might contribute to the problem including:

  • Poor hydration and insufficient levels of electrolyte minerals in muscles.
  • Making muscles work too hard during an exercise that the body is not used to e.g. running 10 miles instead of your usual 5.
  • Inadequate rest and recovery before more exercise, as muscles are much more likely to cramp when fatigued.
  • Genetics play a role with some people more prone to muscle cramping than others.
  • Age, as muscles in the elderly are more prone to cramping than in younger people.
  • An injury, where muscles go into spasm in order to ‘protect’ the injured area.
  • A side effect of some medications including statins, ‘water tablets’ (diuretics) and asthma medications or an illness such as hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), type 1 or type 2 diabetes. If your muscle cramps coincide with a new medication or you have any other concerns you need to speak to your doctor who will determine if anything more serious is going on, and do not stop taking any medication!!

So what can you do?

Generally, the fitter and healthier you are, the lower your risk of developing muscle cramps. This means that improving your fitness and general health, can significantly reduce your risk. The good news is that it doesn’t mean spending hours in the gym, just being more active, drinking more water and carrying out a few simple stretches can make a huge difference.

Here are some of the other things you can do to help reduce the problem.
Hydration – Maintain adequate hydration (1) as reduced hydration levels can lead to impaired electrical signalling to the muscles resulting in an increased risk of cramping. The common advice is to drink 2 litres of water a day, in fact the amount you need may be more or less than that, depending on your activity levels, body size and other factors. I could go on, but that is a topic for another blog…

Calcium and magnesium – These elements are essential for the contraction and relaxation of muscle fibres. A high-magnesium diet can help as this is an element that is often low in Western diets (2) and research suggests that low intake of magnesium can affect exercise performance generally (3). Good sources of magnesium include wholegrain unrefined (not white) breads and cereals, while brown rice, all nuts and seeds (especially sesame seeds), beans, peas and lentils (especially chick peas) and green leafy vegetables are all excellent sources.
Because of their role in muscle contraction and relaxation, research has focused on the role of calcium and magnesium in muscle cramps. In pregnant women, low magnesium status is associated with increased incidence of muscle cramps and magnesium supplementation helps reduce this condition (4-6). Magnesium supplementation has also been shown to help sufferers of ‘night cramps’, which involves nocturnal muscle cramping (normally in the legs) (7).

Stretching – One thing that nearly everybody agrees on is regular stretching targeted at muscles prone to cramping can greatly reduce the incidence of muscle cramps as well as stopping cramp once it’s started (8,9). Passive stretches held for 30 seconds seem to be most effective; the mechanism is unclear but a regular program of stretching is known to lengthen muscle fibres, by altering spinal neural reflex activity. Regular massage or foam rolling may also be beneficial as they promote general muscle relaxation.

In Summary
In most cases, you should be able to self-manage muscle cramps and reduce their frequency and intensity by following the advice outlined in this article. If you have any concerns please seek the advice of your doctor, especially if you have recently changed medication or the cramps have been getting worse over time.

Feel free to contact me at Sollus Healthcare if you need any advice on stretching or simple ways to increase activity to help reduce your cramping problem.


References

  1. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2005 Dec; 15(6):641-52
  2. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 42(6): 533-63, 2002
  3. J Nutr, 132(5): 930-5 2002
  4. Z Geburtshilfe Perinatol. 1982 Nov-Dec;186(6):335-7
  5. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1995 Jul;173(1):175-80
  6. Fortschr Med 1984 Sep 13;102(34):841-4
  7. Med Sci Monit 2002 May;8(5):CR326-30
  8. J Sports Sci 1997 Jun;15(3):277-85
  9. Clin Sports Med 2008 Jan;27(1):183-94, ix-x

Spring gardening is a dangerous sport?….

a lawn mower is a dangerous thing
A garden full of dangers….
how dangerous can a flowerpot be?
….be very afraid?

A recent article in the Telegraph claimed that gardening can be a dangerous activity and while I think that it greatly exaggerates the problem there is definitely an element of truth to it.

In one year, 300,000 individuals in the UK attended A & E departments after having an accident in the garden with 87,000 people actually injured while gardening! Top of the list of most dangerous pieces of equipment is the lawnmower, with 6,500 accidents reported and flowerpots were the second most dangerous causing 5,300 accidents. Falls, cuts and lifting injuries were some of the other common types of accident reported.

Some of the more common gardening problems you want to avoid include:

  • Gardeners’ back which is another name for low back pain caused by digging, raking and lifting heavy objects.
  • Weeder’s wrist where wrist pain and stiffness occur due to over-zealous weeding or overuse of the garden shears.
  • Pruner’s neck with neck and shoulder pain caused by pruning those high branches on hedges and trees.

Using gardening equipment safely (especially lawnmowers!) will obviously be very high on your priority list, but when it comes to avoiding injury taking care of your body should be viewed with equal importance.

This advice should help you to avoid some of the common problems listed and help to keep you pain-free:

  • Try to begin your gardening session with a warm up routine by taking a brisk 5 minute walk to help get your heart pumping and warm up your muscles ready for activity.
  • Set a 10 – 15 minute time limit on any activity to help spread the load on your muscles and joints as this will make a repetitive strain injury  much less likely. Whenever possible change the hand/ arm you are using for a particular job as this will also help reduce any problems.
  • Listen to your body and if you start to feel some discomfort while carrying out a task don’t ignore it, slow down or take a break.
  • Protect your back by keeping it straight, avoiding any twisting movements and bend at your hips and knees. This means that when you lift you will use the powerful leg muscles rather than your weaker back muscles!
  • Keep hydrated and drink plenty of water to replace any fluids that you might lose due to sweating.
  • When planting or weeding use a foam-padded kneeler or knee pads to avoid developing knee pain.

When the gardening has been done, carrying out some simple stretches like these will help to reduce any aches and pains and you will feel much better the next day. A nice warm bath will also help to keep you nice and flexible.

Following our advice should help to make your gardening a less ‘extreme’ activity’, but if you do have any concerns please call us on 01604-532853 or email info@sollushealthcare.co.uk and we will do what we can to help resolve any problems.

post-gardening relaxation in the sunshine
….Gardening safely done, time to relax

 

 

Are you sitting comfortably?

poor posture

The osteopaths at Sollus Healthcare see a lot of clients that have work-related aches and pains, especially the ones that work in an office environment.

Work related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSD), as we professionals like to call them, are the result of a poor work environment affecting muscles, joints and ligaments usually in the neck, shoulders and low back. These problems can seriously affect your quality of life and this can be confirmed by anyone that has suffered from low back pain, neck or shoulder problems or posture-related headaches.

According to the latest statistics (1):

  • In 2014/15 44% of work related illnesses were WRMSD.
  • An estimated 9.5 million working days were lost due to WRMSD, which is 40% of all days lost due to work related ill-health in 2014/15.

(If you would like to know more, you can have a look at  this (1) www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/musculoskeletal/msd.pdf)

We work with employees based at some of Northampton’s largest educational establishments treating WRMSD and providing advice on workstation setup. Until they came to see us many of these clients didn’t even realise that their workstation set up could have such a significant impact on their physical wellbeing.

Here is some advice on what you can do so you don’t end up with similar problems:

poor posture

Don’t work like this

Head forward, rounded shoulders & low back, leaning forward with your weight through your elbows, pressure on the wrists etc.

This can result in headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, tennis elbow, low back pain and wrist pain.

Work like this

 Head upright, (top of the monitor level with your eyes), straight back, your bottom at the back of the chair, forearms resting on the desk and feet on the floor (use a foot rest if your feet don’t reach the floor)

 

good posture

 

Once you have set up your workstation correctly, here are some other things that you should consider:

  • Desks are designed for people of average height and if you are very tall you probably need a height adjustable desk. If you are shorter than average and your feet don’t touch the floor when you are sat down you need a footrest (whatever you do don’t tuck your legs under your chair or adopt other strange positions as this can cause hip, low back and knee problems over time!).
  • Avoid crossing your legs while sitting.
  • At least once an hour look away from the screen and focus on a distant object for 30 secs to reduce eyestrain.
  • If you spend a lot of time on the telephone, don’t cradle it in your neck, treat yourself to a headset.

Specialist equipment can be useful e.g. if your work requires a lot of numeric input you could use a numeric keypad and reduce the amount of typing by using voice to text software.

Other things to consider are:

  • TAKE REGULAR BREAKS AWAY FROM YOUR DESK!!! (probably the most important point hence the capital letters!)
  • Ideally take a minimum 5 minute break from your desk every 30-45 minutes. (set up a reminder on your PC or use the timer app on your phone)
  • Rather than emailing or calling someone in your office go and see them.
  • Eat your lunch away from your desk and go for a walk afterwards.
  • Do some stretches during the break (contact us for exercises ideas if you need to)

If you have a WRMSD caused by office work, doing some or all of the above will definitely help and remember it is equally important to apply the same principles if you work from home.

Don’t forget we offer 15 minute FREE assessments so please contact us if you have any concerns about a pain that just won’t go away or you would like more advice on your desktop setup. You can call us on 01604 532853 or email info@sollushealthcare.co.uk We are here to help.