Pretty much everyone experiences a muscle cramp at some point. A muscle cramp is an involuntarily contracted muscle that does not relax, similar to a spasm, but a cramp lasts longer and is usually a forcible contraction. During a cramp, the muscles tighten without voluntary input from the brain and over-tighten. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to an hour or longer. They can be prevented through adequate nutrition and hydration, attention to safety when engaged in physical activity or exercise, and attention to posture and ergonomics. Injury Medical Chiropractic and Functional Medicine Clinic can develop personalized treatment plans for individuals experiencing musculoskeletal issues.
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Muscle cramps can occur in any muscle. The cramp may involve a portion of a muscle, the entire muscle, or several muscles that function together. A muscle or a few tissue fibers that involuntarily contracts is in a spasm. If the spasm is forcefully sustained, it turns into a cramp. They can cause a noticeable and/or hardening of the involved muscle/s. They can be experienced as mild twitches or can be excruciatingly painful. Some can involve the simultaneous contraction of muscles that normally move body parts in opposite directions. It is not uncommon for a cramp to flare up multiple times until it finally stops.
They can occur during physical activity, exercise, rest, or night, depending on the cause. There are various causes that, include:
- Electrolyte imbalance.
- General overexertion.
- Physical exertion in hot weather.
- Physical deconditioning.
- Medications and supplements.
Most times, they are not a cause for alarm; however, depending on the individual, their age, type of physical activity, and medical history, cramps could indicate a more serious underlying problem such as a thyroid disorder, liver cirrhosis, atherosclerosis, ALS, or a problem or condition of the spine or spinal nerves.
The muscles involved can indicate the mechanism and cause.
- If the cramp is triggered by fatigue, a drop in muscle glycogen, dehydration, or an electrolyte imbalance, it’s most frequently to the calf muscles, feet, or back of the thigh/hamstring muscles.
- This is typically due to a combination of fatigue and dehydration.
- If it is triggered by nerve irritation, like a spinal disc injury, cramps tend to present in the forearm, hand, calf, and foot, depending on whether the disc injury is in the neck or lower back.
- If there is a joint sprain in the neck, mid-back, or lower back, the cramp will present where the injury is and around the surrounding muscles.
- A calf cramp happens when lying down because the foot points down, shortening the calf muscles.
- A shortened muscle is more likely to go into spasm, especially if it is exhausted from activities and if the body is dehydrated, which is pretty common.
- For two muscles that work together performing the same movement, called agonists, and the one muscle is weaker, the secondary muscle has to work harder, often going into a spasm or cramp from the added stress.
- For example, if the buttock/gluteal muscles are weak, the hamstrings eventually spasm when exhausted.
First, the cause needs to be identified through medical history and examination. There can be an underlying nerve irritation and interference, restricting the muscle or muscle group, which needs to be dealt with for the therapy to be effective. Chiropractic care, combined with therapeutic stretching and massage therapy, can:
- Relieve muscle cramping
- Improve blood circulation
- Increase muscle movement
- Improve musculoskeletal function
- All help to diminish and prevent muscle cramping.
Adjustments will restore proper alignment and restore nerve communication. These treatments help to release toxins, loosen and relax the muscle tissues, and provide relief.
Say Goodbye to Pain With Chiropractic
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Garrison, Scott R et al. “Magnesium for skeletal muscle cramps.” The Cochrane Database of systematic reviews vol. 9,9 CD009402. 21 Sep. 2020, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009402.pub3
Katzberg, Hans D. “Case Studies in Management of Muscle Cramps.” Neurologic clinics vol. 38,3 (2020): 679-696. doi:10.1016/j.ncl.2020.03.011
Miller, Kevin C et al. “An Evidence-Based Review of the Pathophysiology, Treatment, and Prevention of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps.” Journal of athletic training vol. 57,1 (2022): 5-15. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-0696.20
Miller, Timothy M, and Robert B Layzer. “Muscle cramps.” Muscle & nerve vol. 32,4 (2005): 431-42. doi:10.1002/mus.20341
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