What is cramp?
Cramp is a common condition that involves the sudden tightening of the leg muscles, which can cause pain. The most common area of the legs for cramp to occur is the calf muscles, but it can also affect the thighs and the feet. Cramp is generally recognised as being a harmless condition which passes fairly quickly. However, a degree of tenderness and pain in the legs can still be felt for several hours after cramp has subsided.
What causes cramp?
There are two types of cramp; idiopathic cramp, which occurs for no known reason; and secondary cramp, which is typically the symptom of an activity or health condition.
Among the potential causes of secondary cramp are long periods of exercise, liver disease, certain types of medication (like medicine which lowers cholesterol levels), and pregnancy.
It is the spasms which occur during cramp, whereby the muscles contract suddenly, which causes pain in the leg. During the spasm, the muscles in the affected area of the leg cannot be controlled. Usually cramp lasts for anything from a few seconds up to 10 minutes. Once the spasm is over, the muscle can be controlled again.
Treatment options for cramp
The spasms of the leg muscles which occur during cramp can be treated by osteopaths. Individuals who get cramp regularly may be given a home stretching programme which can help to reduce the severity of cramp and the consequent muscular pain which is experienced. Joint manipulation and massage techniques may also be used. Some osteopaths can prescribe natural remedies, such as Japanese quince, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and Gingko.
Stretching exercises guided by a physiotherapist may lengthen the muscle which is in spasm and ease discomfort. This can be combined with a light massage which helps the cramp to subside. In the case of severe cramp, a physio may apply an ice pack which can encourage the relaxation of the muscle. Prevention measures include increasing fitness levels, drinking adequate amounts of water before and after physical exercise, and warming up routines before physical exercise.