Check-Up: Muscle contractions ‘cramping’ her life
Audrey is 56 years old and has been experiencing increasing episodes of muscle contractions in her calves and even in her feet at times.
The contractions can last from a few seconds to more than 15 minutes.
They occur mainly during the nights and sometimes will go away if she massages the cramp.
Other times, she has to just try to walk the muscle contraction out. She doesn’t like drinking water and her friend told her that a lack of water in her system can lead to muscle contractions; so she’s been drinking more water.
It’s helped a little but the contractions still happen, just a bit less frequently. Audrey asks what causes the muscle contractions and what can she do to avoid them.
Muscle cramps can happen any time. There are many reasons why they occur. When a muscle cramp occurs, you can try to gently stretch out the muscle involved and add warmth to the affected muscle, but to find a more long-term solution, you might need to try to discover just what might be taking place in the affected muscles.
Some causes of leg and muscle cramps generally include:
n Lack of rest and muscle overuse.
n Increasing your exercise programme – If cramps start, it’s a sign to slow down a bit.
n Muscle fatigue.
n Sitting or standing for too long – If you get cramps while sitting or standing still, try moving around every 20 minutes.
Medical causes for muscle cramps include:
n Possibly due to medications being taken – But never discontinue your medications suddenly without discussing the situation with your doctor!
n Peripheral artery disease
n Thyroid disease
n Multiple sclerosis
n Diabetes mellitus
Stretches can help get rid of leg cramps:
n For a cramp in the back of the thigh, put your weight on the affected leg and slightly bend your knee. You can also sit down or lie down with the leg straight out and pull up your foot towards your head.
n For a cramp to the front of the thigh, you can stand, holding on to a chair, and pull your bent foot back towards your buttock.
n You can also massage the muscle involved and take a warm bath with Epsom salts.
To prevent cramps, stay well hydrated at all times. Eat foods high in the minerals and magnesium, and stretch your muscles every day, definitely before exercising.
Night-time leg cramps affect one-third of people over the age of 60, can occur several times a week, and are thought to occur due to a variety of reasons, including magnesium deficiency, poor sleeping habits or damaged and overactive nerves and stress.
All these factors have to be addressed to adequately overcome night-time leg cramps. These leg cramps do not resolve as quickly as cramps due to other causes.
Inactivity at night-time also results in decreased blood flow to the leg muscles, with decreased oxygen and nutrients being delivered to them.
This again increases the risk of night-time leg cramps. This can be minimised by stretching the leg muscles before getting into bed and keeping the legs warm.
Taking vitamin B6 supplements can also help with restoring proper sleep patterns.
Use ice or heat packs on muscles which tend to cramp. Heat relaxes muscles, while cold reduces pain.
Therefore, night-time leg cramps need to be treated in a more holistic approach than muscle cramps which occur after training for sporting activities.
Dietary supplements, a reduction in stress levels, exercising, stretches and a healthy sleep pattern are all needed to combat night-time leg cramps!
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