A muscle cramp is a sudden and involuntary spasm or contraction of one or more of the muscles in the body, causing a sudden, sharp muscle pain. You may be able to feel or see a hard lump of muscle tissue beneath the skin. Muscle cramps often occur in the legs. Nocturnal cramps that occur in the calf muscles or toes during sleep are also common. Though generally harmless, muscle cramps can make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle.
Muscle cramps can be caused by overuse of a muscle, such as long periods of exercise or physical labor, particularly in hot weather. They may also be caused by dehydration, muscle strain, or holding a position for a prolonged period of time. In many cases the cause of a muscle cramp isn’t known. In other cases, they may be caused by certain medications or related to an underlying medical condition such as arteriosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) in the arteries that deliver blood to the legs, causing leg or foot cramps while exercising; compression of the nerves in the spine (lumbar stenosis); or mineral depletion such as a shortage of potassium, calcium, or magnesium due to diet or medications. Muscle cramps can also be due to certain conditions such as kidney, thyroid, nerve, or hormone disorders, diabetes, hypoglycemia, and anemia.
Muscle cramps usually disappear on their own and can be treated with self-care measures such as stretching and massaging the muscle and applying warmth to it. However, for some people, muscle cramps can be an ongoing problem, and can be very difficult to live with, interfering with sleep or daily routines.
Acupuncture is an effective option for relieving and resolving muscle cramps. Muscle cramps are typically a sign that there is a blockage of blood and energy flowing to an area of the body. When this happens, it causes that area to become weak and less able to perform properly, making the area more vulnerable to injury, over-fatigue, and pain. In addition, in Chinese medicine (TCM), the liver and gallbladder meridians are responsible for nourishing the tendons and ligaments of the body. If there is an imbalance in these organs or if they are not functioning properly, muscle cramps can be one of the resulting symptoms. Acupuncture treatment for muscle cramps will typically involve restoring the liver energy flow and treating any problems with the way that it is functioning. By addressing the underlying health conditions or imbalances that may be contributing to the occurrence of muscle cramps, we can help to restore health with the goal of preventing muscle cramps from occurring again in the future.
Acupuncture can help to increase blood circulation, relieve muscle spasms, and relax the body, and the results are usually quite immediate. This makes it a very effective option for treating muscle cramps. With continued treatments, acupuncture can help to improve the body’s health and functioning, so that it is better able to perform and less prone to muscle cramps. In this way it offers not only relief but also resolution of the problem. Whether you are an athlete looking to achieve top performance, or whether you are dealing with a chronic condition and living with muscle cramps as a result, acupuncture can offer relief and help you get back to your daily routine.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna. He can be reached at www.okanaganacupuncture.com.