29 June 2004

Do You Experience Them Often?

Yesterday also, Bayi asked the following:
"When I get muscle cramps, doctors tell me that I lack salt, because of my sweaty exercise schedules. What salt are they talking about, the deficiency of which causes cramps?"
A muscle cramp is an involuntary and forceful contraction of our skeletal muscles (usually the legs and arms) that does not relax. If the muscular contraction is brief and relaxes right away, the term used is muscular spasm. Muscular cramps usually last from a few seconds to about 15 minutes, sometimes even longer. In Tagalog, it known as "pulikat," and is the nightmare of every swimmer. Almost everyone has experienced a cramp in his/her life. Cramps are very common in adults and become increasingly frequent with aging. The more commonly affected muscle groups include the extremities, the feet, legs, and arms.

The "salt" that Bayi probably lacks when he experiences muscular cramps during his exercise schedules can be any of the following: potassium, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate..

The muscle cramp caused by low potassium is usually associated with weakness. The more common "salts" that are lacking during vigorous exercise are calcium and magnesium salts. They cause cramps because low levels of these salts in blood directly increase the excitability of both the nerve endings and the muscles they stimulate. Too much bicarbonate in the body can also cause cramps.

There are also other causes of cramps like dehydration and injury. Vigorous physical activity usually results in excessive perspiration, which depletes body fluids and causes dehydration. A fracture or injury to a muscle can also cause cramps. The cramps in this case tends to be protective, as the persistent muscular spasm minimizes movement of the affected bone.

Thiamine(B1), pantothenic acid(B5), and pyridoxine(B6) deficiencies have also been implicated as causes of cramps. A poor blood circulation most common in the legs and calf muscles results in inadequate oxygen to the muscle tissue, and this causes severe pain in the muscle. While the pain experienced here is similar to that of a cramped muscle, the pain does not seem to be a result of the actual muscle cramping. This pain is due instead to lactic acid accumulation in the muscle tissues. Peripheral arterial occlusive disease is a condition that affects the abdominal aorta, its major branches, which includes arteries of the legs. Fatty material buildup reduces the elasticity of the artery and reduces blood flow beyond the area of accumulation. Most people with this condition have atherosclerosis so that when an artery in the leg is narrowed by atherosclerosis, that person will begin to feel tingling pain and an achy, crampy, or a tired feeling in the muscles of the leg during physical activity.

What can be done: Leg and feet cramps can be relieved by stretching and this can often be accomplished by standing up and walking around. A gentle massage of the affected muscle group also helps as well as applying warmth from a heating pad or hot soak. Ice packs may also relax a cramp. If the cramp is associated with dehydration, heat stroke, and massive loss of electrolytes, hospitalization in order to replenish the lost fluids and "salts" is usually recommended.

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