What Causes Cramp and Can Massage help?

This is still a bit of a mystery, but I have just briefly set out the basics.

Cramp is a sudden involuntary contraction of the muscles which can be very painful.  Often the cramps last for a few minutes, but the affected area may still be sore and tender for up to 24 hours later. Common areas that are affected include calves, thighs and on the base of the feet, and some people suffer with regular night cramps.

There is much debate on what causes cramp, but these are some of the current theories:

  • Over stretching of a muscle.

  • Contraction of a muscle which is already in a shortened position – which causes muscle spasms. E.g. lying in bed with feet slightly pointed (common sleeping position) if bed covers too tight while you are lying on your back, they will push the toes downwards, shortening the calf muscles further, causing cramp.

  • Strenuous physical exercise. This reduces oxygen to the muscle, causes dehydration and changes the structure of the fluids in the body through sweating.

  • Temperature changes in the body

  • Dehydration

  •  Medication- some can cause cramps

  • Excess alcohol

  • Electrolyte imbalance in the body(levels of salts).

Cramps are slightly more common in people over the age of 60 and in pregnant ladies. While the reason for cramps in pregnancy is still unclear, it is thought that increased pressure on nerves and blood vessels, circulation changes and low levels of magnesium and calcium may contribute to the causes of cramps.

How to Treat Cramp?

During an episode of cramp, gentle stretching and massage of the area will help to relieve the pain. Regular stretching of the affected area on a daily basis whether or not you have cramp, will also help to reduce the frequency and strength of the attacks.

Depending on which article you read will depend on whether or not it is believed massage can help with cramps. My own experience with clients is that massage can help to reduce the frequency and severity of cramps. It is also extrememly effective in relieving the pain after an attack. Passive stretching of the affected area carried out by a therapist will also help to alleviate any pain and again reduce the frequency of the cramps.


More information can be found on the website   http://www.patient.co.uk/

In particular there is information on leg cramps here   http://www.patient.co.uk/health/cramps-in-the-leg