Ouch! Cramp!

It’s the dead of night… one minute you’re sound asleep…the next you’re hopping around the bedroom in agony…you’ve got cramp…ouch…and you just know that for days now you’re going to feel that ache in your muscle and dare hardly move for fear it will cramp again!

Sound familiar? Many of us suffer with cramp. It’s more common at night but we can experience it at any time, particularly during or just after exercise or when we are cold. I’ve been asked about cramp a few times over the last few weeks, so thought I would share with you some holistic ways of getting rid of this painful pest!

So, what exactly is cramp and what causes it? It’s a painful, involuntary muscle contraction, typically caused by fatigue or strain and an alteration of the balance of salts (potassium and sodium) in the blood stream. An episode of cramp can last anything from a few seconds up to 10 minutes. Cramps often occur when we are resting, particularly when in bed and are more common in older people.

Many things can cause cramp – medication, dehydration, over-exertion, pregnancy, excessive intake of alcohol, kidney problems and an underactive thyroid – and if it’s more than a 1 off incidence you might want to get the cause checked out.

What can we do to prevent cramp?

The first thing is to make sure you do plenty of stretching – and if there’s one thing yoga is great at, it’s giving each and every one of your muscles a good stretch! Always stretch before and after exercise, to warm up and cool down the muscle, improving circulation and therefore the delivery of much needed oxygen and nutrients to the muscle cells and then clears up waste products and carbon dioxide.

When we exercise, the build up of carbon dioxide (lactic acid) is what causes a “stitch” and in my experience breathing properly, ie. using the diaphragm correctly and breathing into the tummy, as we teach in yoga, will take this away very quickly.

You could also try massage, very beneficial for improving circulation and relaxing tired muscles. A good aromatherapist friend of mine, makes up a fantastic “anti-cramp” blend of lemongrass, cypress and ginger in sunflower seed oil (always check out any contra-indications before using essential oils and never use essential oils during pregnancy or if you have any health challenges without first checking with a qualified aromatherapist that the oils are safe for you to use), which you can rub into the muscles, always working towards the heart.

Make sure you get plenty of the following vitamins and minerals in your diet too :

  • Magnesium – the “anti-stress mineral”, vital for healthy cell function, promotes a healthy cardio-vascular system. Found in almonds, seeds, brown rice, green leafy veg and dried fruits.
  • B Vitamins – the “anti-stress vitamins”, maintains a healthy nervous system, help build and repair the body’s cells. Eat a wide range of fruit and veg, whole grains, eggs and seeds.
  • Potassium & sodium – these 2 nutrients need to be in balance to maintain muscle contractions & the normal transmission of nerve signals. Potassium can be found in bananas, green leafy veg, water melon and citrus fruits. Asparagus, beetroot, carrots, celery, figs and oatmeal are all good sources of natural sodium.
  • Zinc – amongst other things zinc is involved in tissue repair and speeds up the healing process. Butter beans, mushrooms, nuts and seeds, cheese and eggs are all foods rich in zinc.

Make sure that you are staying hydrated and that you eat regularly too.

There’s also an acupressure point that I’ve always found really useful for alleviating cramp : push firmly on the space between the nose and the lips, with your finger (sometimes you need to circle the finger around to find the right spot), just where that groove is right in the centre. Trust me … it works!

Let me know how you get on and your top tips for relieving cramp. If you need any advice on what stretches would work, have a chat with your Inside Out tutor next time you’re at class. Take care Ix

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