Have you ever experienced a severe calf pain in the middle of the night that awakens you from sleep, and wonder what you did to deserve it? Everyone will experience muscle cramps sometime in their life, and they can occur while we exercise, sleep, or play drums. The slightest movement that shortens a muscle can trigger a cramp. Muscles that cross two joints are most prone to cramps, which most commonly occur in the legs, feet, arms, abdomen, and rib cage, although cramps can occur in any muscle.
A cramp is an involuntary and forcibly contracted muscle that doesn’t relax. A cramping muscle may appear distorted, feel hard to the touch, and may twitch beneath the skin. A cramp can last a few seconds, a few minutes, or longer, and might recur multiple times before they completely resolve.
The exact cause of muscle cramps is unknown. It is thought that cramping may be due to injury, muscle strain, and inadequate stretching or muscle fatigue. Exercising or working in intense heat leads to dehydration from depletion of salt and minerals (electrolytes). Excessive sweating drains the body’s fluids, salt, and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which cause the muscle to spasm.
Muscles that are poorly conditioned are more likely to experience muscle fatigue. Overexertion can deplete the muscle’s oxygen supply, leading to a build up of waste product (lactic acid) and spasm. Cramps typically develop near the end of intense or prolonged exercise, or the night after. When a cramp begins, the spinal cord stimulates the muscles to keep contracting.
Cramps will usually resolve on their own. There are a number of self-care tips that can help when a muscle cramps, such as stop doing the activity that triggered the cramp in the first place; gently stretch and message the cramping muscle, holding the muscle in a stretched position until the cramp subsides; and finally apply ice to the cramped and tender muscles.