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Video:Prevention and Explanation of Muscle Spasms and Cramps

with Elizabeth Quinn

Muscle spasms or cramps can be extremely painful and most muscle spasms and cramps are involuntary contractions of a muscle. See more information on muscle spasms and cramps in this video.See Transcript

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Transcript:Prevention and Explanation of Muscle Spasms and Cramps

Muscle spasms or muscle cramps can be extremely painful. In some cases, a muscle may spasm so forcefully that it results in a bruise on the skin. Most muscle spasms and cramps are involuntary contractions of a muscle.

Common Locations of Muscle Spasms and Cramps

While they can happen to any skeletal muscle, they are most common in the legs and feet and muscles that cross two joints (the calf muscle, for example).

Muscles Effected by Spasms and Cramps

Cramps can involve part of a muscle or all the muscles in a group. The most commonly affected muscle groups are:
  • Back of lower leg or calf
  • Back of thigh or hamstrings
  • Front of thigh or quadriceps
  • and Feet, hands, arms, and abdomen

What Causes Muscle Cramps

The exact cause of muscle cramps is still unknown, but the theories most commonly cited include:
  • Altered neuromuscular control
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte depletion
  • Poor conditioning
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Doing a new activity

Other Factors Associated With Muscle Spasms and Cramps

Other factors that have been associated with muscle cramps include exercising in extreme heat. The belief is that muscle cramps are more common during exercise in the heat because sweat contains fluids as well as electrolyte (salt, potassium, magnesium and calcium). When these nutrients fall to certain levels, the incidence of muscle spasms increases.

While all these theories are being studied, researchers are finding more evidence that the "altered neuromuscular control" hypothesis is the principal pathophysiological mechanism that leads to exercise-associated muscle cramping (EAMC).

Treating Muscle Cramps

Cramps usually go away on their own without treatment, but these tips appears to help speed the healing process:
  • Stop the activity that caused the cramp
  • Gently stretch and massage the cramping muscle
  • Hold the joint in a stretched position until the cramp stops

Preventing Muscle Spasms and Cramps

Until we learn the exact cause of muscle cramps, it will be difficult to say with any confidence how to prevent them. However, these tips are most recommended by experts and athletes alike:

Tips
  • Improve fitness and avoid muscle fatigue
  • Stretch regularly after exercise
  • Warm up before exercise
  • Stretch the calf muscle
  • Stretch the hamstring muscle
  • Stretch the quadriceps muscle
  • Most muscle cramps are not serious. If your muscle cramps are severe, frequent, constant or of concern, see your doctor.


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