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Cramp

General characteristics

General characteristics

Cramp is an involuntary (not performed consciously) spasm in a muscle, part of a muscle or a muscle group resulting in the muscle contracting, causing pain and discomfort. It can last for a few seconds, minutes or longer. It is common in muscles that are usually under voluntary control such as those in the calves, hips, shoulder, fingers, feet etc but also occurs in muscles generally outside of conscious control such as in the womb during menstruation and childbirth, blood vessels, bile and urinary ducts and respiratory passages.
Cramps can occur during or after exercise and when resting. It happens for a variety of reasons including muscle fatigue in response to exercise, straining a set of muscles through poor posture or footwear, exposure to cold, deficiencies of salts (calcium, sodium, magnesium and potassium), dehydration, fluid loss from diuretic use, excessive diarrhoea, sweating or vomiting, in response to injury, lack of blood flow to the muscle, excess caffeine and alcohol, hyperactivity of nerves supplying the muscle, as a result of other conditions like diabetes, under active thyroid, liver cirrhosis and kidney disease and is said to be increasingly common with advancing age.
Natural and herbal treatments aim to treat the underlying cause of cramps where possible, reduce the probability of cramp occurring and provide relief when the cramp is present.
 

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

A diet based on fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds will go a long way to reducing the likelihood of muscle cramps.

Include plenty of foods containing calcium, magnesium and potassium such as tahini and sesame seeds, bananas, dark leafy greens, broccoli, wholegrains, fresh orange juice, sardines, dried fruits, sweetcorn, baked potatoes in skins, plain natural yoghurt, watercress, cottage cheese, seaweeds and  beans. see also 'minerals' in the 'natural healing' section of this site for other foods rich in these minerals.

Include grated ginger and a pinch of cayenne powder in your food where appropriate or drink a small cup of ginger tea with a pinch of cayenne daily.

Make a mineral 'soup' by adding the washed peel of some organic potatoes to a pan of water (a pint or so), along with a tablespoon of barley, a good handful of leafy greens such as kale, cabbage, beetroot or turnip tops, a teaspoon of dried seaweed, unpeeled organic carrots, a couple of celery sticks with leaves, some parsley and any other fresh herbs to taste. Bring to the boil and simmer for half an hour or so. Strain off the liquid and drink throughout the day for a boost of beneficial mineral salts and many other nutrients.

Drink enough water for your needs, at least 4 glasses daily.

Avoid caffeine, smoking and alcohol if you are prone to cramps as they can interfere with mineral salt levels in the body. Caffeinated drinks and alcohol are diuretic as well so increase fluid and salt loss.

Avoid phosphorous rich products like fizzy drinks, processed foods and foods containing refined flour. Excess phosphorous inhibits calcium uptake in the body and therefore increases the likelihood of cramp and many other health problems.

Limit your intake of refined sugars, go for honey or molasses if you need a sweetener.


Useful herbs

Useful herbs

A daily tea made using equal parts of nettle, raspberry leaf and oatstraw will go a long way to preventing cramps from happening, providing plenty of easily absorbed calcium, potassium and magnesium and iron, along with other vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Mix 25g of each and use a heaped teaspoon of the herbs to each cup or mug. This mix can be used long term as a nutrient tonic and preventative by both old and young.
When the cramp is exacerbated by nervous tension or exhaustion from emotional or physical stress use equal parts of chamomile, skullcap, motherwort and st johns wort dried herbs to calm and nourish the nervous and muscular systems. One heaped teaspoon per cup three times daily.
If impaired blood flow is an issue then add 10 drops of prickly ash tincture to each dose of any of the herbal formulas.
Crampbark is a specific for relieving cramp and spasm in voluntary and involuntary muscles and will take effect rapidly. Use a half to one teaspoon of tincture in a little water three times daily.
Massage a drop of lavender and rosemary essential oils in a tablespoon of light oil into the parts that are prone to cramp. Use just before bed if you are prone to nighttime cramps to increase circulation and help relax the muscle.
Drink rooibos (red bush) tea instead of black tea or coffee.

Natural healing

Natural healing

Take a teaspoon of cider vinegar with a teaspoon honey in half a small glass of hot water 3 times daily to prevent future cramp episodes. Take a teaspoon of it neat followed by a mouthful of water for almost instant relief.
Drink a small glass of tonic water before bed for night time cramps.
For cramp in the muscles of limbs, feet and hands etc stretch out the muscle involved for as long as needed and gently massage the muscle. Stand on both feet and lean forward, keeping both feet on the floor to stretch the feet and calf muscles and relieve the cramp.
Try this simple acupressure treatment to stop and prevent cramp....gently pinch and massage the area of skin between your top lip and nose for a few minutes several times a day or before sleep.
Cramp is common in the feet and calves at night as the feet and calf muscles are often shortened by the posture of the legs which are often bent at the knees with the toes pointing downwards. Try loosening the bottom of your bedclothes to allow your feet to remain more upright or lie in a sideways position.
Make sure you stretch properly before and after an exercise session.

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