Friday, 7 January 2022

A simple explanation about Cramp, Muscle Spasms, Twitches

Cramp is a sudden and involuntary contraction of muscles that can happen at any time, day or night, and can be extremely painful. Your muscles contract, become hard, tense and painful and do not relax. They can last a few seconds to 15 minutes or longer. A muscle cramp in a particular location may also recur multiple times until it finally goes away. An episode of muscle cramping can even lead to post-cramping muscle soreness, similar to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

A spasm or twitch occurs when a muscle or even a few fibers of the muscle contract involuntarily, but it doesn’t last very long.

Despite being a very common condition the exact causes of cramp and spasm remain a bit of a mystery. But we do know that cramping occurs when the normal mechanism of muscle contractions and relaxation becomes temporarily impaired, so if something upsets this then muscle cramping becomes more likely.

Cramp can be caused by a multitude of factors:

Poor circulation
Over exertion and muscle fatigue
Too hot or humid conditions

And all of these above can cause a depletion of fluid and minerals (especially sodium and magnesium).


Pinched nerves, causing muscle fiber hyper-excitability
Over-stimulation of the nervous system caused by certain conditions or stress
Side effects of medication
Lifestyle causes, such as remaining in a certain position for long periods of time

And lastly:

Post exercise cramp - is often caused by dehydration through excessive sweating, causing a depletion of electrolytes (the essential nutrients(chemicals) for the functioning of all parts of our body) and these crucial nutrients help stimulate nerves throughout the body to contract and relax our muscles and balance fluid levels.

Suggestions on what you can do to help prevent muscle cramps?

Keep well hydrated, how much water you need is different for everyone.

Electrolytes – it is not known for certain if a lack of electrolytes causes cramps, but they are needed for normal neuromuscular firing and relaxation. Through excessive sweating we do lose electrolytes, such as sodium (salt). If you have a healthy well balanced diet then this should be enough to keep your electrolyte levels where they need to be. However if you perform vigorous exercise then a post-exercise sports drinks will help replace electrolytes.

Magnesium and/or Calcium supplement – again studies are not conclusive that these supplements or magnesium oil will help, but they are both essential minerals for contraction and relaxation of muscles and also their repair. Magnesium oil sprayed directly onto the skin and rubbed in will help replenish magnesium levels, especially after a post –workout sweat. You cannot overdose on magnesium so too much is not harmful.

A diet rich in carbohydrate, this ensures the replenishment of stored muscle carbohydrate (called glycogen), as low levels of this can lead to fatigue and in turn increase risk of cramps. Eating a banana (again high in Potassium/Magnesium) before bed has been shown to improve cramp symptoms.

Maintain supple and well-conditioned muscles, as cramps are much more likely to occur in muscles that are tense, sore and if the joints have limited range of movement Stretching muscles prone to cramping can greatly reduce the incidence of exercise associated cramps as well as stopping cramp once it’s started. Passive or active stretches seem to be effective.

Adequate rest and recovery, as muscles are much more likely to cramp when fatigued.

AND OF COURSE….MASSAGE - regular massage may help as it promotes general muscle relaxation, good range of movement and increases circulation which is key for nutrient flow. As a Sports Massage & Remedial Therapist the techniques I use to help my Clients who suffer with cramps are stretching, compression, vibration (e.g. gently shaking a limb) and Muscle Energy Techniques (MET), which is stretching but also influencing the nervous system, to “let go” and reset the resting length of a muscle. Plus, Myofascial release which is a slower technique focused on re-hydrating, releasing and giving our body’s fascia (which is all the connective tissues that bind us together and enable our skeleton to move) time, space and energy to readjust itself.

Any questions please do get in touch.

Nicky Holbrook
Sports Massage & Remedial Soft Tissue Therapist

January 2022