The Clinic is flooded these days with clients who are experiencing leg cramps, and they aren’t sure what’s causing them. Not only can cramps be painful, but sometimes they are scary as well, since you can feel like your body is literally trying to rip its own muscles. If you do enough research, you will find that the cause of leg cramps is not precisely known. But the good news is that so many people are affected by this condition, that practically everything has been tried, and some treatments and therapies seem to work better than others. This will be done as a two part series, to assist those of you who are currently affected.
During the Day
Drinking water is essential. To achieve real hydration, you will need to drink more water than you think you need. Give your body enough extra fluid to ward off leg cramps. Although it is a good idea to drink before going to bed, you will really need to increase water consumption throughout the day to make a noticeable difference. Don’t despair, it gets easier to drink more after you get into the habit. In fact, your body will begin to enjoy and crave fluids after you have developed the habit. While I don’t suffer with leg cramps, I can surely attest to the body craving water once the habit of consuming it is developed.
Potassium deficiency may also be the cause of your cramps. Try eating a banana a day and see whether the frequency of cramps decreases. A little extra potassium may take you a long way. In diabetics, this may not be a good option, so work around it.
You may not need to do anything additional if you find that water intake and extra potassium are doing the trick for you. Increasing blood flow to your calf muscles should be part of the strategy. Stretch the leg muscles by facing the wall, planting the foot firmly and flatly against the floor and then leaning forward to stretch the hamstring and calf muscles. Make sure to keep your leg straight and knee locked. Do this for each leg. If you routinely exercise, you might try scheduling the exercise during an evening time slot, and following it up with a stretching routine that emphasises muscles prone to cramping. Another good technique is to gently massage the muscles that are most often involved in the cramps.
Leg position can be difficult to control after you go to sleep. But starting out in a position that does not contort or stress any part of the leg can be important. Sometimes cramps come on when you wake in the night and stretch your legs just a bit farther than your body is comfortable with. Your legs may respond with a painful contraction.
During menstruation, women lose a significant amount of blood. This results in loss of iron (from haemoglobin), and other minerals like potassium and magnesium.
During heavy or prolonged menstruation, this loss is even greater. Depletion of these vital minerals causes increased irritability of the skeletal muscles of the calf and lower limbs, precipitating painful spasms of the muscles. Leg cramps can occur for 3 to 7 days during the menstrual phase, and more so if the patient is dehydrated, or has heavy physical exertion.
Prevention of cramps lies in controlling the risk factors or precipitating causes of this condition. One
important precaution is to prevent dehydration by increasing fluid intake. Women should also increase the intake of crucial electrolytes like potassium and magnesium, during and after this phase.
The cramped muscle is painful to the touch (tender) and is usually harder than normal muscles. At the onset of cramps, it is best to cease all physical activity, and gently massage the affected areas. It is also advisable to lie on your back with your leg raised. Next, gently flex the knee. This position and flexing causes relaxation of the muscles. Then attempt to straighten the knee, while continuing the gentle massage. Prevent dehydration by consuming 5 to 8 glasses of water or other liquids daily. During acute attacks, it is also a good idea to drink plenty of water. This can be followed by a warm water bath. Some physicians advocate the adding of Epsom salt to the bath water though this isn’t strictly necessary.
Often, it is not any single remedy, but a combination of several of these that make an effective defence against muscle cramps during menstruation.
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