Monday, October 05, 2009

Leg Cramps: From annoying to debilitating, and more common than one may think

Most people from time to time will admit that they don't always feel 100%. When asked what doesn't always feel right, people will usually say their backs hurt, or their neck/shoulders are stiff. Less often, people will throw in that, oh yeah, sometimes they get cramps in their legs or calves. Most people don't outright lead with that, but if probed, or if someone else mentions it, it becomes more and more common that people realize that leg cramps aren't that uncommon. The major difference between whether people even acknowledge the cramps or not is usually how severe the cramps are.

When I was dancing in college, we had extremely long days with very little breaks in inconsistent temperature studios, and dancing in multiple studios with different flooring each day. About my junior year, I started waking up in the middle of the night finding that my legs had curled into the fetal position, and my calves had completely siezed up so badly that straightening my legs felt like my muscles and tendons were being ripped to shreds as I moved. (Turns out it wasn't so much the cramping that hurt, as it was the pain of trying to move and stretching my legs out that woke me up screaming.) Several times in the morning, I would have to have my poor roommate physically grab my ankles and pull my legs straight so I could get out of bed, and the one morning she wasn't there, I had to roll out of bed, crawl to my desk chair, and pull myself to standing in order to get the cramps straightened out. After much trial and error, I realized that my two main problems were dehydration and lack of potassium, in addition to the various flooring changes (different levels of cushioning). When I consciously started eating lots of bananas and keeping hydrated, the cramps went away. Even now that I'm not dancing anywhere near as much as I used to, I still can tell when I'm not eating right or over-thirsty because less occasional, but still severe cramps keep me in check and are a strict reminder to keep bananas in the house.

Since then, I've looked in on this leg cramp issue every so often and found that my personal assessment was not far off from what the experts are finding out. Every so often I have clients who complain of leg cramps, and I recommend potassium, hydration, and calcium whether the cramps are mild or severe, and I also look for specific muscle groups in the calves and legs that are tight. Massage can usually be very effective for relaxing the cramping muscles, but the best treatment is keeping the cramps away in the first place.

Enjoy, and stay hydrated!

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