Cramps occur because of muscles contracting. The muscles in your legs are part of the skeletal muscle system, which generally contracts at the command of the brain, hence they are called voluntary muscles.
Sometimes, however, skeletal muscles also act involuntarily. For example, with the diaphragmatic and intercostal (between the ribs) breathing muscles, we can inhale, exhale and hold our breath voluntarily, and breathe involuntarily. Similarly, there are times when voluntary leg muscles can contract involuntarily, as you are experiencing.
Skeletal muscles consist of large fibres drat can be up to 12 inches long. Muscles carry out heavy duty work so they are equipped with specific cellular power stations called nuclei and mitochondria which are capable of converting glucose into energy very rapidly.
The contraction of muscles is a complicated procedure: muscle fibre squeeze together because protein fibres lock into each other, rather like comb slotted together. When the protein fibres unlock the muscle fibres relax and lengthen.
Excessive muscle contraction, as in sports training triggers the muscles to demand more oxygen than the body can supply through breathing. This oxygen deficit causes the formation of lactic acid, a by-product of when glucose molecules are only partially burnt off. Lactic acid is a major cause of cramps.
Calcium is also a factor as muscles need it to contract. If there is a shortage, the muscle goes into spasm and cramps up to avoid losing it. So people suffering from osteoporosis may suffer, as may vegans and vegetarians whose bodies can’t absorb calcium because of the lack of vitamin D from animal fats in their diet. Lack of sunlight which is vital for our bodies to synthesis vitamin D, is another factor. Also, if you are chronically constipated, the colon cant readily absorb calcium. This causes cramps in the leg muscles at night when the circulation of blood is sluggish. Being dehydrated (often a cause of constipation) is another risk factor for cramp as are excessive sweating and severe diarrhea.
Poor blood circulation may be the villain. Very active people who suddenly have to give up exercising perhaps because of an accident may experience painful cramps. This is due to muscular atrophy (wasting), where fibrous scar tissue grows around the previously active muscles, resulting in decreased blood flow.
Low levels of potassium and sodium, which are essential for good muscle functioning are also implicated in cramps. A lack of potassium may be caused by a poor diet, or by taking diuretics, which trigger the excretion of potassium. The lack of potassium and sodium, which act as electrolytes on the surface of muscle fibres, leads to impaired response to nerve stimulation, so the fibres go into spasm erratically, causing a cramping sensation. Magnesium is also essential for healthy muscles, as is co-enzyme Q10.
Here are my tips
- Boost levels of potassium by eating lots of fresh fruit and veg, preferably organic. Aim for five to ten portions a day.
- Eat moderate amount of sea salt in your diet. If you have high blood pressure, use a reduced sodium salt alternative such as Lo Salt.
- Avoid foods that may increase cramping primarily coffee, alcohol, citrus fruits and sour-tasting foods, such as pickles, pineapple, kiwi and rhubarb.
- If constipated; drink six to eight large glasses of still water every day between meals. Eat papaya and figs. Take one Qurs Mullayan tablet after your evening meal for two months.
- Take coral calcium, a naturally occurring form of calcium with other helpful minerals. Soak one sachet in 1.5 litres of water and drink through the day for three months.
- Take one tablet (150mg) of magnesium every day for two months.
- Take one capsule(30mg) of co-enzyme Q 10 daily for one month CoQl0.
- The natural reaction is to relieve cramping by squeezing stretching and pummeling the muscles. You can use this preventatively too. For ten minutes before bed, massage the calves from knee to ankle, squeezing the calves, with Back Massage Oil.
- You can make your own oil with two tablespoonfuls of sweet almond oil and three drops of lavender essential oil. If you get cramps, do the same.
- Do this exercise 20 times every morning and evening for one month: lie on your back on the floor with your body straight and your arms by your sides. Keeping your heels on the floor, flex your toes towards your knees and hold for five seconds. Now point your toes away from you again holding for five seconds.