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.
When a muscle engages, i.e. contracts, it shortens. A spasm is an involuntary static state of contracture in a muscle; ie. a muscle that will not willfully relax.
Muscles spasm when the normal balance of potassium and sodium (electrolytes) in the muscle cells is disturbed for a longer period of time than the muscles can withstand.
There are a number of things that can contribute to an imbalance of these electrolytes:
1. Dehydration, from inadequate fluid intake or excessive sweating.
2. Vigorous exercise, especially when stretching before and afterwards does not occur.
3. Potassium and/or calcium deficiency.
So why does a cramp occur during a foot reflexology session?
Muscles that have been overly taut for a period of time, such as those of the lower leg or sole of the foot, tend to 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 simple. 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.
If someone on my table cramps up, 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 flexor muscles and lengthens the extensor 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 (usually three to eight repetitions).
An acupressure method can be added to the stretch protocol above. While performing the movements described, ask your client to apply pressure with her index finger between her lip and nose, two-thirds of the way up. She holds that point firmly until the cramp subsides.
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.