WHETHER you are prone to them or they attack you only occasionally, muscle spasms, which can occur at any time of the day, are an involuntary, violent and often excruciating contraction of the muscles that can sometimes leave you feeling very sore.
Personal trainer and fitness instructor at Hard End Fitness Factory on Ardenne Road, Gisel Harrow, said there are a number of measures that can be implemented to reduce the possibility or potentially prevent as well as treat these spasms.
“Muscle contractions are intensely painful cramps that can affect anyone, but are more commonly seen among athletic people. They can also occur frequently in non-athletic people who are prone to these contractions. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to a quarter of an hour or occasionally longer and it is not uncommon for a cramp to recur multiple times until it finally resolves,” Harrow explained.
Harrow pointed out that while most muscle cramps often result in some soreness, exercise-induced muscle cramps are painful, debilitating, and can take an athlete out of the competition.
“They can occur in athletes in all types of sports and are usually associated with muscle fatigue and/or dehydration with an associated loss of electrolytes; mineral depletion, for example, where the body lacks magnesium, potassium and calcium; nerve compression; and inadequate blood supply,” Harrow outlined.
In addition, she said that pregnant women, as well as people with some medical conditions such as diabetes or nerve, liver or thyroid disorders, may be at an increased risk for contractions. The good news, however, is that they can be treated.
“The effective treatment of muscle cramps is dependent on the cause. For people suffering from overuse or 'fatigue muscle cramps', the most effective treatments are passive stretching, massage, icing of the affected muscles, and contraction of the muscle on the opposite side of the muscle cramping — that is, if the hamstring is cramping, contract the quadriceps muscle group to relax the hamstring muscle group,” Harrow instructed.
In the case of individuals suffering from muscle cramps prompted by excessive sweating and a sodium deficit, the same treatments employed in the case of overuse or fatigue can be effective in reducing the pain and muscle spasms. However, along with the stretching, massage, and applied ice, these individuals need to consume fluids with additional sodium.
“Hydrating yourself before and keeping hydrated throughout the workout are very important. Similarly, stretching properly before, during and after exercising can also be very effective in preventing or reducing your chances of having muscle contractions,” Harrow advised.
Other ways in which you can potentially ward off muscle contractions is by maintaining a balanced diet or compensating for the absence of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium in the diet with the use of supplements. Aiming for a balanced diet should always be your first option. You can also gently massage areas that are prone to contract, and for people who are very active, pacing yourself is also important to ensure that you do not overload muscles prematurely.