July 2011 – Muscle Cramps

Every athlete knows what it feels like to get a muscle cramp. It is common knowledge that poor stretching plays an extremely important role in the development of cramps. What is less commonly understood are the other factors that predispose to the onset of one of these painful episodes. Cramping is not something that only affects more active people. In fact, cramping is extremely common in the elderly also and I will explain why.

In order for a muscle to contract and relax a complex physiological process is undertaken at a cellular level. Much energy is required, importantly, during the relaxation phase as well as the contraction phase. In order for this process to occur effectively several metabolites (minerals) are needed to be present in the muscle tissue. These are, namely, sodium (for stimulation of the muscle), calcium (for contraction) and magnesium (for relaxation). Good circulation is also needed so that oxygen can be provided. The oxygen allows the muscle to produce energy from glucose, which fuels the whole process. Any disturbance in these factors can lead to poorer muscle function.

During exercise, minerals are lost in the sweat and glucose is burned. It is important for an athlete to replace lost minerals and lost glucose after exercise to allow the muscles to repair and to provide the necessary minerals for them to relax fully. This will prevent cramping and improve recovery! There are many great recovery drinks available to buy that will replace these lost minerals. Taking a good calcium and magnesium supplement supplement will work as well and you can replace lost salts through an electrolyte drink or simple table salt if necessary.

In the elderly, gentle exercise and stretching before bed can help to prevent the development of night cramps by increasing the circulation. It is important to consider that dehydration and magnesium deficiency may also be a factor. Magnesium is a water soluble mineral and is often lost from foods in the cooking process. Taking a magnesium supplement can make a dramatic difference to night time discomfort. It is important that the supplement contains at least 100% of your RDA. (Note : patients with kidney problems should not take a magnesium supplement and if you are taking any medication then you should speak to your GP first). Drinking 8 glasses of water per day can make a great difference to the health of your muscles by providing much needed hydration and flushing out toxins.

Geoffrey Hogan (M.Ost)
Registered osteopath

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