Cramping my style
I got spasms, they’re multiplying
And the pain it’s supplying...
At least once a week I sing this song. I experience foot and leg cramps in the late afternoon or early evening, but it also occurs at other times of the day. It's frustrating and at the height of the pain, I cannot move or walk. At times, I think I know what is wrong but at other times it's a mystery to me. I feel that prevention is always better than cure, therefore, I try to identify something that is causing the cramps and then put strategies in place to help.
The main causes of spasms for me are:
· Exercising or overuse of muscles (1)
My solution: Rest and Stretch
This can occur when I have exercised to the extent of muscle fatigue that simply brushing my teeth causes cramps in my arm. It's not an electrolyte imbalance but just MG. It's a sign that it's time to recharge my spoons.
Wearing the right shoes also assists in reducing my foot cramps. Any girl who has spent a night in high heels can testify to this!
Stretching muscles before and after exercise also helps to prevent and resolve cramps. The basic concept is to stretch your muscle in the opposite direction to which it is cramping. Ask Dr Jo.com is a great resource for video clips on basic stretches.
· Cold temperatures, especially cold water (1)
My solution: Avoid!
I hate swimming in cold pools. It feels as if my legs start to instantly burn.
Warm up by using heat packs, warm baths and warm winter pyjamas. Please remember that heat can trigger muscle fatigue so two hour baths are not recommended as you might not be able to get out of the bath independently.
· Being static: Standing on a hard surface for a long time, sitting for a long time, or putting your legs in awkward positions while you sleep. (2)
My Solution: Move and stretch
I also tend to sit cuddled up on my couch especially when feeling fragile, therefore, I make sure to take regular stretch breaks, even if I am just watching TV. Propping myself up well or stealing my husband’s lazy boy helps to correct my posture and therefore prevent cramps. When going to dog agility training, I take my own camping chair that has a high and supportive back rest . It is also helpful to invest in a supportive base set, mattress and pillow. If you are uncertain, get advice from your physiotherapist with regards to the correct pillow height etc.
Stretch before bed or during the cramp as recommended above.
· Not having enough potassium, calcium, and other minerals in your blood (3).
My solution: Good food
Supplements are needed if your mineral levels are extremely imbalanced, however, mineral imbalances can frequently be corrected with your own diet. MG warriors should not take magnesium supplements as they can cause weakness, however, magnesium rich food is processed differently in the body and can be consumed in moderation. Please note that my food sources below are dairy-free, processed sugar-free and gluten-free. I also recommend eating the below foods as raw as you can tolerate.
My Top supplement foods: (4)
Beetroot, greens, spinach, kale, mushrooms, squashes, sweet potato, carrots and sweet corn.
Magnesium: Dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, beans, lentils, fish (tuna), bananas and dark chocolate.
Iron: Seeds, liver, seafood, grain fed meat, dark leafy greens and dark chocolate.
Phosphorus: Seeds, salmon, lean beef, beans and lentils.
Calcium: Dark leafy greens, broccoli, salmon, seaweed and oranges.
Remember that you can only absorb calcium effectively if you have sufficient vitamin D levels. While spending time in the sun is the easiest source, I avoid tanning and have therefore asked my Neurologist for the correct vitamin D supplement that will suit my needs. Oily fish and cod liver oil also have natural sources of vitamin D.
· Being dehydrated (3)
As mentioned above, I avoid sugar and processed food in my diet. Therefore I would not advise drinking sports drinks such as Energade. Fresh pressed fruit juices, organic teas and coconut water are my personal favourites. Homemade bone broth is also very effective as its mineral content is high.
· Taking certain medicines, especially steroids (cortisone / prednisone) , Mestinon , Cell-cept and other immune suppressants have also been shown to cause cramps.
As just stopping your medication is not an option, I advise that you consult with your Neurologist if the above prevention strategies don’t work.
· Other medical conditions, such as blood flow problems (peripheral arterial disease), kidney disease, thyroid disease(5) and neurological problems (multiple sclerosis or MG).
If you suspect the above, please consult with your doctor. Management of spasms due to disease is usually treated with some form of medication, however, allied health professionals can also offer non-pharmaceutical help. Physiotherapists can be helpful in many ways. They can offer advice on specific stretches and use dry needling to help release spasms. They can also prescribe exercises to facilitate movement and assist in building muscles that help prevent incorrect posture which will, in turn, prevent cramps.
Each cause has a specific treatment. However when my leg is on fire in the middle of the night, my brain is not in the rational thinking, 'why brain' mode but rather in the immediate,problem solving mode. My top three solutions are therefore: Stretching, applying heat and rubbing with an anti-inflammatory gel such as voltaren gel.
1) Exercise-associated muscle cramps: causes, treatment, and prevention.
Dehydration; Aetiology of skeletal muscle ‘cramps’ during exercise: A novel hypothesis
2) Muscle cramps during excersise: Is it fatigue or electrolyte deficiency
3) Exercise and mineral status of athletes: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.
4) HealthAliciousNess web page: https://www.healthaliciousness.com
5) Hypothyroidism and muscle cramps