What are muscle cramps?
There are 3 different types of muscles in your body. There is cardiac muscle, which is what your heart is made out of, there is smooth muscle, which is what lines your blood vessels, gastrointestinal tract, and some of your organs, and there is skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscles attach to your bones and contract in order to allow voluntary movements of your body to happen. Sometimes these skeletal muscles can contract involuntarily and forcefully, this is called a muscle spasm. If this muscle contraction sustains and does not relax, this becomes a muscle cramp. These muscle contractions are often painful. The most common area of the body to have muscle cramps is the muscles of the legs. The most likely muscles to crap are your quadriceps (thigh), hamstrings (back of the thigh), and gastrocnemius (calf). While these are the most common, cramps can happen in any skeletal muscle. Other common places for cramps to occur are in the arms, hands, feet, and abdominal wall. If a cramp happens in your leg it can make it difficult to walk, and the pain of cramps can often wake people in the middle of the night. In some cases there can also be a bulging lump of muscle tissue beneath the skin, that accompanies the pain of the cramp. There may be some twitching of the muscle. Muscle cramps can last anywhere from a few seconds to over 15 minutes long. In most cases muscle cramps are harmless, however they can cause a lot of pain and discomfort for the person experiencing them.
What causes muscle cramps?
There are many things that can cause muscle cramps to happen. These include:
- ♦ Overuse of the muscle, usually due to exercising.
- ♦ An injury. This could be directly to the muscle, or could be to a nerve or a disc, causing the surrounding muscles to spasm.
- ♦ Excessive loss of fluids in the body / dehydration.
- ♦ Low levels of minerals that contribute to healthy muscle function. These include magnesium, calcium, potassium, and sodium.
- ♦ Low blood supply to the muscles, this usually happens when walking or exercising.
- ♦ Physical deconditioning of the muscle.
- ♦ An issue with the spine or spinal nerves, such as spinal nerve compression.
- ♦ A medical condition. Some examples are kidney failure, liver cirrhosis, atherosclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), thyroid disorders such as hypothyroidism.
- ♦ Certain medications or supplements.
- ♦ Poor posture.
How can chiropractic help with muscle cramps?
If you are suffering from regular muscle cramps, it is a good idea to talk to a chiropractor and see how they can help. There are many ways your chiropractor may be able to help you with your muscle cramps, these include:
- ♦ Helping you figure out what is causing your cramps. The first step to stopping your cramps from happening is to figure out what is actually causing them in the first place. Chiropractors are very knowledgeable when it comes to health and how the body works, so they can work with you to figure out what be causing the cramps, so you can find a solution for them from there.
- ♦ Improving muscle health. If your muscles aren’t functioning well and have a lot of extra stress placed on them, this is going to increase the chance of you having muscle cramps. Having misaligned joints throughout your body places excess stress on the muscles in that area, as they are having to do extra work to compensate for the misaligned joint. Too much stress on that muscle for a long period of time may cause it to start cramping. Chiropractors are able to locate these joint misalignments, and perform a chiropractic adjustment on them to get them moving in the proper way again. When the joint is moving properly it allows all the surrounding muscles to function properly, reducing the likelihood of muscle cramps happening.
- ♦ Improving posture. Poor posture can place stress on the muscles in your body, and in some cases this can cause those muscles to start cramping. Poor posture happens due to weakness of the small stabilising muscles that surround your spine. They become weak due to lack of spinal movement. Chiropractors are able to locate the areas of the spine that aren’t moving properly and adjust them. This helps to get the spine moving again, and this movement helps to strengthen up those small spinal muscles. As those muscles get stronger, your posture will start to improve, which takes stress off of your bigger muscles. Less stress on these muscles will reduce the likelihood of muscle cramps happening. If you are wanting to improve your posture, it is a good idea to see a structural chiropractor, as they specialise in improving the structure of the spine and improving posture.
- ♦ Improving nerve health. All of your muscles are controlled by nerves, that are in charge sending information to the muscles to make them contract or relax. If the nerves aren’t working at their best then they may be sending the wrong messages to your muscles causing them to contract when they shouldn’t be. Nerve health is largely influenced by spinal health, as the nervous system runs directly through the spine. Chiropractors are able to adjust the spine in order to improve the function of your nervous system, which will ensure that the nerves that connect to your muscles are functioning the way they are supposed to.
- ♦ Injury recovery. It may be an injury that is causing your muscles cramps. Chiropractors are able to assist your body in healing your injury, whether it is an injury directly to the muscles, or to something else like a disc or a joint.
- ♦ Exercise and stretching advice. Chiropractors can provide you with stretches and exercises to help with muscle health, which will reduce muscle cramps. They can also give you stretches to do when a muscle cramp is happening, to help the muscle relax and stop the cramp.
- ♦ Other advice. Chiropractors can also provide you with other advice to help with your muscle cramps. This may be advice on supplements, what you are eating, and what to do during a cramp, such as applying heat to the muscle.