8 Effective Ways to Handle Muscle Cramps

My wife trusts me…
that is, unless I’m half asleep.

On a scale from 1 to 10, my trust meter reads about a negative 20 when I’m drowsy. I don’t blame my wife. My advice has proven to be flat out comical once my eyes start to droop.

One night my wife suffered the mother of all cramps in her right calf muscle. She tried to stretch it out but it continued to cramp to the point that she needed my help. I woke just enough to hear her pleas for help. My intelligent dreamland reply was, “Just pull your heal up to your ear.” If my eyes had been open, I would have seen her shoot me a look that said, “That’s what it FEELS like I’m doing. Help me!!!” Instead, I received a frantic slap across the chest intended to fully wake me up. It worked. I snapped into Physical Therapy mode and saved the day…and my marriage.

If you have ever suffered a cramp, I don’t have to tell you they are painful. These involuntary spasms can involve one or more muscles at once. The foot and calf muscles are the most common. Usually the cramp only lasts a couple of minutes and can be quickly handled. On rare occasions, it is possible for a cramp to last as long as ten minutes and sometimes more.

For the most part, the causes of a cramp are unknown.

There are however secondary causes that we know often precede the occurrence of a cramp. These include medical conditions such as diabetes and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) which affects the blood flow to arms and legs. Dehydration and loss of sodium or potassium can also result in cramps. The secondary cause people probably associate most with cramps is exercise or a new activity that provides stress to the muscle.

While exercise can certainly result in cramping, did you know that cramping can also occur because muscles are underused? This is often the case when the cramps last for a longer duration. In this situation, a physical therapist can be very helpful in using manual therapy to restore the muscle to its proper length and designing a program to properly strengthen the associated muscles.

With these secondary causes in mind, it is possible to address muscle cramps.

We can significantly reduce our chances of having a cramp by:

  • Drinking plenty of water,
  • Eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals,
  • Stretching before and after exercise, and
  • Properly managing any medical conditions that are associated with muscle spasms.

Even with the best prevention in place, a cramp may still visit you when you least expect it.

When cramps do occur, there are some things you can do to find relief:

  • Apply pressure on the belly of the muscle.
  • Gently stretch the muscle.
  • Ice the affected muscle to relieve pain.
  • Therapeutic massage can also relax the muscle and increase circulation.

It is important to note that your muscle cramps could be the result of an untreated medical condition or the side effect of a drug you are taking. You should be able to recover from average muscle pain within two to eight weeks. If you find that you are still in pain after that time, it would be a good idea to see your doctor or seek a consultation from a physical therapist.

Just make sure your physical therapist is awake or there’s no telling what advice you might get!