by Dr. Bradley Shapero
Have you ever noticed that if you comment on a health problem the volume of information offered to “help” is enormous? If you care to triple that input just punch it into your search engine and see what pops up.
How is one to sort through this pile of information for those few bits of truthful gems that will get the job done? Having a knowledgeable health professional on your team can help make that job a lot easier.
When it comes to a relatively common and apparently simple problem such as muscle cramps one would think the job would be more simple, but I have seen silly remedies such as, pickle juice, mustard and candied ginger just to name a few.
Let’s begin by defining what is happening. A muscle cramp is an involuntary, sudden, and lasting muscle contraction that can cause intense pain and reduced mobility. It can affect one or more muscles and most commonly occurs in the thigh (upper leg) or calf (back of the lower leg). Other common areas include the hands, feet, arms, chest and abdomen. This is very different from a muscle spasm; a spasm generally means the muscle fibers have "locked up" to protect the injured muscle or area. Although these are often used incorrectly and interchangeably they are very different from one another and are treated much differently.
There a numerous causes for muscle cramps and the appropriate treatment will depend on determining the correct diagnosis. Muscle cramps can be caused by exercising or working in intense heat, muscle strain or overuse, dehydration, depletion of electrolytes (e.g., salt, potassium), compressed nerves, poor circulation, injury, and eating high amounts of sugary foods.
In most isolated - meaning single incident - cases the first aid and remedy can be fairly simple and straight forward. The following remedies are in order of importance, however when in doubt following first aid will work in most cases.
* If the cramp is intense than gently stretch and massage toward the center of the body. Drink a large glass of water and if available have a calcium magnesium mixture, approximately 300-600 mgs. Calcium and 75-150 mgs of magnesium. If this is in tablet form then you should chew it. Follow this up with a little more water. (A note of caution: It is mentioned above that one cause of cramps could be electrolyte deficiency, however, if this is not the case and one takes salt it could exacerbate the situation by pulling water from the muscles.)
* Not all supplements are created equal. It is important to note that the above mentioned minerals come in different forms and of varying concentrations in combination, so be sure to read the label. It is best to keep the Calcium:Magnesium ratio at a 2-3:1 ratio. These minerals are antagonistic to each other in several ways in the body, taking high doses of one can effect the other and also create or exacerbate a deficiency.
* A good form of calcium should be considered and what I recommend most is Microcrystalline Hydroxyapatite Concentrate or MCHC. Keep in mind that Calcium in the form of Calcium Carbonate interferes with digestion, this and other forms can also interfere with certain medications and create a greatly magnified side effect of those medications including certain antibiotics such as gentamicin, ciprofloxacin and others. Side effects from blood pressure medications, diuretics and others are greatly exacerbated implementing mineral remedies should not be done blindly.
* While Magnesium is essential in that it converts sugar to bioenergy, it can also have some unwanted effects if not taken properly and should be supplemented intelligently. There are numerous studies which have shown that cellular magnesium deficiency is not only rampantly common it is also associated with the following conditions, cardiovascular disease (including heart attacks, cardiac arrhythmias, angina and congestive heart failure), osteoporosis, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, inflammation, asthma, chronic stress, colorectal cancer, alcoholic brain damage, depression, tension and migraine headaches, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, muscle cramps and weakness, as well as many others.
Following these guidelines should help most cases of isolated muscle cramps, however, if this is something that seems to repeat itself then it is certainly not normal and should be investigated further. There are very simple tests that can be performed by a doctor to isolate the cause of muscle cramping.
Keeping yourself well hydrated, especially in the winter and higher altitudes, and taking a few moments to stretch before any type of physical exertion are simple preventative measures that can be helpful to preventing the problem in the first place.