Whether you call it a muscle spasm, a charley horse or a muscle cramp – it hurts! A muscle spasm can wake you in the middle of the night, interrupt a tennis game, reward you after a long run, or surprise you in the middle of a foot reflexology session.
There are a number of situations that are generally referred to as a cramp:
* Tic or twitch – not usually painful
* Tremor – a quivering that usually precedes a full-on cramp
* Spasm – what most people refer to as a cramp – an involuntary state of contracture in a muscle; ie. a muscle that will not voluntarily or willfully relax.
Muscles spasm when the normal balance of electrolytes in the muscle cells is disturbed for a longer period of time than the muscle can withstand.
There are a number of things that can contribute to an imbalance of these electrolytes:
* Dehydration from inadequate fluid intake or excessive sweating.
* Muscle fatigue from a prolonged position or vigorous exercise, especially when stretching before and or stretching/adequate cool down afterwards do not occur.
* Lack of minerals including sodium and magnesium; potassium and/or calcium deficiency being the most common.
* Decreased oxygen delivery to muscle tissue due to poor circulation in the legs.
* Drug effects. Diuretics, statins and many other medications can cause muscle spasming.
* Spinal cord injury.
Muscle Spasms and Reflexology
So why does a cramp occur when someone is receiving reflexology?
Muscles that have been overly taut for a period of time, such as those of the lower leg or sole of the foot, relax during a reflexology session. That sets up a disruption of the electrolyte balance, causing the muscle to cramp.
If this happens when you are giving a session, don’t panic. The solution is as simple as switching an on/off button. Two actions – reciprocal inhibition and digital pressure will change the neural signal to a muscle, allowing it to relax again.
To relax any muscle in the body, you actively engage the antagonistic (opposing) muscle, which will increase circulation to the affected muscle and allow it to lengthen and relax. This is known as reciprocal inhibition.
If someone on my table cramps in the bottom of the foot or in the calves, I immediately place the palm of my hand on the dorsal side of their foot and ask them to strongly pull their foot towards their face (dorsi-flex). At the same time my hand resists their motion, attempting to pull their foot towards my face (plantar-flex). This combined action engages the foot extensor muscles and relaxes the flexor and intrinsic foot muscles. The hold is held for a couple of seconds and then both the client and I relax our efforts. We immediately do it again, and continue to repeat the sequence of engagement and relaxation until the cramping stops. Applying massage to the muscle bellies and pressure in the muscle spasm will also help.
Adequate hydration, regular foot reflexology, massage of the muscles prone to cramping, a diet high in potassium and calcium, and daily stretching can prevent the re-occurrence of muscle cramps.
Drink before you’re thirsty. Restoring an adequate level of hydration in your body will take a few days. It’s kind of like pouring water on a super dry plant and expecting the soil to retain the moisture; the water just pours out the bottom. It will take a few days for the minerals to recirculate and invest your tissues. Evian water is a good water to drink for a few days if you are dehydrated. It contains a higher salt content than regular drinking water.
I don’t recommend relying on Gatorade as a general source of hydration. It’s great for an acute situation – think triage – perhaps after a strenuous exercise activity. It’s too high in sugars and chemicals to be good for you as a regular habit.
Do any of you have other strategies for dealing with foot and leg cramps?