A muscle cramp is a very common form of chronic pain and it consists of one or more of the muscles in the body stiffening and cramping.
In this case the word ‘cramp’ is used to describe a spasmodic and painful contraction of the muscle. This contraction is involuntary and will generally last less than ten minutes.
However, muscle cramps can be extremely painful and can force the individual suffering from it to completely shut down during the period of time in which it occurs. Muscle cramps nearly always involve the lower limbs, and there are four main groupings of this condition.
Who Suffers from Muscle Cramps?
People of all ages are susceptible to muscle cramps, but studies have found that this type of chronic pain is more common in certain demographics than others. Around 60% of adults have reported that they experience leg cramps at night, particularly when they are attempting or in the midst of sleeping. Muscle cramps can have a very negative effect on sleeping patterns, which in turn can reduce a person’s quality of life.
Muscle cramps are quite common among pregnant women and up to 30% have reported experiencing muscle cramps at least once during their pregnancy. This condition is very common among young children, and as with adults it seems to occur more frequently at night than at day. Athletes and those engage in sports or exercise regularly are more prone to cramping, but because they are constantly working on their muscles the strength of the cramps appear to be quite mild.
People who work in hot conditions such as firemen or contractors also report experiencing frequent muscle cramps. Metabolic disorders are a main cause of muscle cramp, and 50% of uraemia patients have experienced some degree of the condition.
Types of Muscle Cramp
Skeletal muscle cramps are divided into four groups, depending on their cause and effect.
– True cramps are a result of a hyper-excitability of the nerves that stimulate the muscle. This can involve part or the whole of a single muscle, or a group of muscles that work in unison. This is easily the most common type of skeletal muscle cramp and can be the result of injury, engaging in more activity then one is used to, dehydration, low blood calcium and low potassium.
– Tetany cramps occur when every nerve cell in the body is activated which in turn stimulates the muscles cause spasms and cramps through the body. This is a result of low calcium and low magnesium. On occasion, tetany cramps can be very difficult to distinguish from true cramps.
– Contractures happen when our muscles are unable to relax and are in constant spasms. This is caused by a reduction in adenosine triphosphate, which is a chemical energy found in our cells. When this chemical is depleted it prevents our muscles from relaxing, and it should be noted that in this instance our nerves are not involved in the muscle cramp. Contractures can be hereditary, or can develop in the presence of other conditions.
– Dystonia cramps are a form of muscle cramp that occurs when a muscle not needed for movement is stimulated to contract. This is typical of muscles that work in the opposite direction of the movement, and small group muscles such as the eyelids, jaws and the neck are most commonly affected. People may also find that their hands and arms are affected by this condition if they engage in activities such as writing or playing a musical instrument. This form of muscle cramp is not as common as true cramps.
Identifying the Problem
The best way you can help your doctor correctly diagnose what type of muscle cramp you are suffering from is by presenting them with as much information about the symptoms you have experienced. To do this you should keep a diary containing details of the following.
– How often the cramps occur, and when are they most frequent.
– The exact times and dates of cramps. This information can be used to discover a pattern, which will speed up diagnosis.
– How long the cramps last and the severity of the pain or discomfort.
– The muscles that are affected during the experience.
– If you suffer from other health problems such as heart disease.
– If you take drugs and how often you consume alcohol. If you smoke you should also make a note of this and how many and how often.
– If you play any sports or engage in exercise you should make note of this.
Simply stretching the muscle for an extended period of time is usually enough to stop the majority of skeletal muscle cramps. If you find that this is not helping then you can try massaging the muscle or applying a hot or cold press to the affected area. Hot showers are excellent for releasing tension and a warm bath will sooth any hyper-activity.
If you find that these are not working you may need to consider using a muscle relaxant medication, which are generally used over a short period of time. If you are considering using such treatment then you will need to consulate your Doctor as the using the wrong medicine could have damaging effects towards your well being.
Muscle cramps are a form of chronic pain that affects a variety of people of different ages. There are four main types of muscle cramp, and successfully identifying the type you suffer from will allow your Doctor to prescribe you the most appropriate treatment. People who suffer from muscle cramps are advised to keep a diary detailing episodes and experiences, as this will help the Doctor in their diagnosis.