Muscle cramps occur when any of our muscles contract, either forcibly or involuntarily, and then does not relax as it should. This is often referred to as a spasm and can happen for a range of reasons. It is something that the majority of people will experience in their lives, albeit some more than others! Although a muscle cramp will usually only happen for a few seconds, it can last up to 15 minutes. It will rarely ever be longer than this.
When we move, our muscles are constantly at work contracting and relaxing to support our movement. Additionally, the muscles in our neck and head will be constantly at work in order that we maintain our posture.
There are four main different types of muscle cramps. These are known as true cramps, dystonic cramps, contractures and tetany. Let’s analyse these four types of cramp and what the causes for them are!
First of all, true cramps are when part or all of either one muscle or a group of muscles cramps. This can either be caused by injury, strenuous activity, low blood calcium, dehydration, low potassium or because the muscle has been resting for a long period of time. Experts are generally in agreement that this is because the nerves become over stimulated by any one or more of the aforementioned factors.
Secondly, dystonic cramps happen when your body moves in some way and muscles that are not needed for this specific action contract anyway. This is especially common when performing repetitive activities, such as typing on a keyboard or playing an instrument.
Thirdly, contractures are continuous involuntary contractions of a muscle and also sometimes of the fibers surrounding the affected muscle. Athletes are at particular risk of experiencing a contracture and it can occur both before and after exercise. This kind of muscle cramp is caused when metabolites accumulate and the blood supply is restricted. Excessive muscle fatigue is also a risk factor.
Finally, tetany is the experience of the nerve cells in the body activating and stimulating the muscles. This can cause spasms throughout the body and is likely to happen when levels of calcium and magnesium are low. When these two things have only a slight presence in the body, the activity of nerve tissue is increased, leading to cramping.
Even though muscle cramps are usually brought on by over-exertion or improper use, they can also be caused by certain types of medication. If muscles are stretched before they are used then this can greatly help to avoid any cramps happening. Staying hydrated and adequately nourishing your body through your diet are also good ways to keep this painful problem at bay. As we get older we are also much more likely to experience cramping of the muscles.