Muscle cramps, what they are and what you can do about them…

muscle cramps can be uncomfortable...

If this looks familiar you really need to read this post…

A common problem among our clients is muscle cramps so we thought we would do some research and report on the latest advice to save you spending hours on the internet trying to find the relevant information.

What are muscle cramps?
Muscle cramps can range from an inconvenience lasting a few seconds to severely debilitating pain lasting 15 minutes or more. While it is a problem normally associated with exercise, it can also occur in non-athletes i.e. the majority of our patients 🙂

Cramp can affect any muscle in the body and occurs when muscle fibres contract involuntarily and fail to relax normally. They are most common in muscles that cross over two joints e.g. the calf muscles, hamstring muscles (back of your thigh) and the quadriceps muscles (front of your thigh). Other areas that can be affected include the hands, stomach muscles and numerous smaller muscles in the feet and toes.

What causes muscle cramps?
Despite all of the research that has been carried out, the exact cause of the problem is still a mystery. What is known is that cramps occur when the mechanisms controlling muscle fibre contraction and relaxation fail to work properly, resulting in the contraction lasting for too long.

There are a number of factors that are thought to contribute to the problem including:

  • Poor hydration and insufficient levels of electrolyte minerals in muscles.
  • Making muscles work too hard during an exercise that the body is not used to e.g. running 10 miles instead of your usual 5.
  • Inadequate rest and recovery before more exercise, as muscles are much more likely to cramp when fatigued.
  • Genetics play a role with some people more prone to muscle cramping than others.
  • Age, as muscles in the elderly are more prone to cramping than in younger people.
  • An injury, where muscles go into spasm in order to ‘protect’ the injured area.
  • A side effect of some medications including statins, ‘water tablets’ (diuretics) and asthma medications or an illness such as hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), type 1 or type 2 diabetes. If your muscle cramps coincide with a new medication or you have any other concerns you need to speak to your doctor who will determine if anything more serious is going on, and do not stop taking any medication!!

So what can you do?
Generally, the fitter and healthier you are, the lower your risk of developing muscle cramps. This means that improving your fitness and general health, can significantly reduce your risk. The good news is that it doesn’t mean spending hours in the gym just being more active, drinking more water and carrying out a few simple stretches can make a huge difference.

Here are some of the other things you can do to help reduce the problem.
Hydration – Maintain adequate hydration (1) as reduced hydration levels can lead to impaired electrical signalling to the muscles resulting in an increased risk of cramping. The common advice is to drink 2 litres of water a day, in fact the amount you need may be more or less than that, depending on your activity levels, body size and other factors. I could go on, but that is a topic for another blog…

Calcium and magnesium – These elements are essential for the contraction and relaxation of muscle fibres. A high-magnesium diet can help as this is an element that is often low in Western diets (2) and research suggests that low intake of magnesium can affect exercise performance generally (3). Good sources of magnesium include wholegrain unrefined (not white) breads and cereals, while brown rice, all nuts and seeds (especially sesame seeds), beans peas and lentils (especially chick peas) and all green leafy vegetables are all excellent sources.
Because of their role in muscle contraction and relaxation, much research has focused on the role of calcium and magnesium in muscle cramps. In pregnant women, low magnesium status is associated with increased incidence of muscle cramps and magnesium supplementation helps reduce this condition (4-6). Magnesium supplementation has also been shown to help sufferers of ‘night cramps’, which involves nocturnal muscle cramping (normally in the legs) (7).

Stretching – One thing that nearly everybody agrees on is that a regular stretching program targeted at muscles prone to cramping can greatly reduce the incidence of muscle cramps as well as stopping cramp once it’s started (8,9). Passive stretches held for 30 seconds seem to be most effective; the mechanism is unclear but a regular program of stretching is known to lengthen muscle fibres, by altering spinal neural reflex activity. Regular massage or foam rolling may also be beneficial as they promote general muscle relaxation.

In Summary
In most cases, you should be able to self-manage muscle cramps and reduce their frequency and intensity by following the advice outlined in this article. If you have any concerns please seek the advice of your doctor, especially if you have recently changed medication or the cramps have been getting worse over time.

Feel free to contact us at Sollus Healthcare if you need any advice on stretching or simple ways to increase activity to help reduce your cramping problem 😀


References

  1. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2005 Dec; 15(6):641-52
  2. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 42(6): 533-63, 2002
  3. J Nutr, 132(5): 930-5 2002
  4. Z Geburtshilfe Perinatol. 1982 Nov-Dec;186(6):335-7
  5. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1995 Jul;173(1):175-80
  6. Fortschr Med 1984 Sep 13;102(34):841-4
  7. Med Sci Monit 2002 May;8(5):CR326-30
  8. J Sports Sci 1997 Jun;15(3):277-85
  9. Clin Sports Med 2008 Jan;27(1):183-94, ix-x
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Our Disability Strength & Conditioning courses are dead – Long live Disability Health & Fitness!!…

As it has been a while since our last blog entry we thought we should let you know what we have been up to in the last few months.

The 3rd Strength & Conditioning (S&C) course ended in December, 2014 so this post is about that course and how the next one will be more of the same, but different…

If you want to know what the S&C courses have been about and why we set them up you can read more here http://bit.ly/SandCcourse2.

We are currently in the process of organising funding for the next course with the biggest difference being a change of name (hence the title for this post). Strength & Conditioning implies that all we do is strength training, but we offer a lot more by providing a balanced program which addresses mobility issues and muscle imbalances as well as resistance training to improve overall health & fitness. To reflect this, future courses will be labelled Health & Fitness which should also help to attract anyone with a disability regardless of their sporting ability (or lack of it 🙂 ).

Get in touch with us if you:
– have a disability.
– are interested in improving your health.
– don’t like high-street gyms.
– want to get fitter with a nice bunch of people that know what they are doing.

There are no confirmed dates for the next course yet, but please email us at info@sollushealthcare.co.uk if you are interested and we will let you know as soon as things have been confirmed. Once the course is up and running let us know if you would like to come along and have a look around as we will be happy to see you.

Here are some of the gang from the last course

strength & conditioning training

Told you we were a happy bunch.

Here are some of the nice things course participants have said about us:

AT – “I thought the course was great and really enjoyed it. It’s helped with my overall strength and this has helped my cricket performance – particularly my batting. Thanks for all your help. Looking forward to the next sessions.”

CT – “The course has improved my strength and exercise technique which has helped me perform day to day activities with greater ease than I did so previously. I have also noted considerable improvement in my shot power in cricket during this 3 months that this course has run.”

NB – “I believe my strength and fitness have improved because of the course. I need to do it again!!”

CE – “For someone with ASD and OCD he has struggled but managed some fantastic work and he would love to do it again if available.”

FR – “This course has helped me greatly in managing my pain to the effect of minimising the number of painkillers I need to take for 2-3 days following the weekly session. This in turn has greatly helped improve my sleep, energy levels, and general mood. The support provided has helped me to understand more about how and why the powerlifting helps me which in turn makes me feel more in control of my own situation. I find myself looking forward to sessions and have confidence in being able to meet my goals.”

If you want to join this happy band, just let us know and we will make you more than welcome…

More training for disabled athletes and what happened last time….

Disabled man with prosthetic leg, jumping in Patagonia.

Why? Because he can…

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have a lot of involvement with people with disabilities, especially the sporty ones. Late last year I worked with Kevin Jane (world champion powerlifter) and Mark Lewis (Lewis Personal Training) to deliver a strength and conditioning course for disabled athletes to prove there was a demand for this type of training and this year we organised a second course which confirmed the demand was out there! We have to say a huge thank you to the Northamptonshire Community Foundation with financial support from the Coventry Building Society Fund who made all of this possible 😀

The last course ended earlier this year and you can read more about it here. We thought it was about time we let you know how it went and to take advantage of this great opportunity to ‘plug’ the next one which is due to start on the 1st October 😉

The aim of the strength and conditioning courses is to provide disabled athletes with an opportunity to work with experienced coaches in a controlled and safe environment. This will allow them to develop and improve all aspects of their athletic performance. The courses are based primarily around the use of free weights with additional functional training to improve balance and core strength, together with advice on managing musculoskeletal issues such as posture and muscle imbalances.

strength and condtioning disabled athlete chest press

One of the athletes working hard!

We knew there was a demand for this type of training, but even we were surprised when 14 people turned on the first night and we averaged 9 per week after that. While primarily aimed at people with a disability, some of the athletes able-bodied family members also got involved.
We feel that the course more than delivered on our original aim with results that exceeded our expectations. The feedback from the course has been excellent and here are some of the nice things people had to say about it:

CU – “The opportunity of this program has lead to me going from in terms of speed very mid field rate to one of the top 2 or 3 in the team. Thanks to this I fully intend to take advantage of any future opportunities like this.”

CD – “The course has impacted my life every day in that transfers from bed to wheelchair, wheelchair to car, wheelchair to loo, wheelchair to basketball wheelchair have all become noticeably easier, putting less stress on vulnerable joints and with fewer ‘failed’ transfers where I have ended up on the floor in the past.
Within the sport, I feel as if I get off the line quicker with stronger initial pushes and have no problem playing a full match.”

CT – “Thought the course was perfect for improving physically both in cricket and general life. Can see definite improvements in my muscular strength, endurance and core stability in particular.”

RW – “I feel the course is very good and I hope it keeps on going. I feel it has benefited me in my sport and personal life.“

strength and conditioning disabled athlete core strength

Working on core strength using an elastic band 😀

And finally this is what BG had to say: “I thought the course was excellent, and the guys running it were exceptional in their assistance. I play sport because I love sport, but it does increase my pain levels – for instance, I am very stiff after cricket, especially the morning after. I have determination to not let my disability get in the way, but I fear my efforts often mean I over exert myself. I know exactly what I have to do but getting my body to do it is a different story. I would love to continue this weightlifting as I do feel it helps my strength and flexibility which is poor! I’d be keen to have some follow up sessions with Sollus Healthcare as some of the advice really worked – I’m trying to do the stretches he advised me to do. I’d like to thank the coaches for their patience and can’t wait to continue the sessions should they happen again. “

disabled athlete deadlift

How to do a deadlift (and get a ‘personal best’!)

As I said the next course is due to begin on the 1st October and will take place at The Farm Weightlifting Club based at Moulton College, Northampton. Email me with your details if you would like some more information or to reserve a place as numbers are limited and spaces are likely to be filled pretty quickly.

The difference between an osteopath, chiropractor and a physiotherapist is….

A question I am often asked is ‘what is the difference between an osteopath, a chiropractor and a physiotherapist and who would be the best person for me to see?’ Here is my attempt at a simple answer which I hope makes sense, but if there is anything you are not sure about please feel free to contact me for more information.

osteopath chiropractor physiotherapist

Osteopath, Chiropractor, Physiotherapist?


I have had to make some generalisations here so let me apologise to all of the therapists who read this and say ‘but that’s not what I do!’ This summary is aimed at helping people understand a bit more about how we work so post your comments if I have missed something fundamental about the way you practice, as anything that increases understanding can only be a good thing.

The first thing to point out is that anyone using the title osteopath, chiropractor or physiotherapist is a highly-trained healthcare professional that has undergone 3 – 5 years of training and must be registered with the appropriate regulatory authority i.e. General Osteopathic Council, General Chiropractic Council or Health and Care Professions Council.

What they do
Osteopathy is a system of diagnosis and treatment based on the view that when the body is balanced and working well, it will function with the minimum of wear and tear. Osteopaths use a detailed case history and physical examination to identify musculoskeletal problems within your body’s structure and function. The treatment approach can involve a combination of structural, cranial, manipulative and soft tissue techniques which are effective for a wide range of muscular, nerve and joint problems.

Like osteopaths, chiropractors take a case history and perform an examination to diagnose problems involving your muscles, joints and the nervous system. A chiropractic exam is more likely to include the use of x-rays, CT or MRI scans as well as other diagnostic tests to rule out disease. They treat the bones, muscles and joints using a range of techniques, with an emphasis on manipulation of the spine to resolve any problems identified.

Physiotherapists treat problems associated with muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons including the spine and are known for their provision of post-surgical/fracture rehabilitation. They will take a detailed history and use orthopaedic tests to diagnose problems and will use mobilisation techniques, manipulation, stretching and exercises to treat musculoskeletal conditions.

Similarities and Differences
As you can see osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists are highly trained in their unique disciplines which are based on different philosophies and principles. Despite these differences there are many similarities in the respective treatment approaches with each profession using orthopaedic and neurological tests to examine and diagnose the problems presented by a patient. They may use different techniques to resolve the problems found, but the end result is always to improve health and to see the patient getting better.

Does this help you to decide who you should go and see? Probably not and in my experience ‘word of mouth’ is still the best recommendation that a therapist could have. Most people will go to the person they have heard good things about, usually from friends and family members and this is often enough for them to make an appointment. When you are in your appointment you should feel comfortable enough to ask lots of questions and as long as you are happy with the answers and the therapist’s treatment approach you have made the right choice.

Choosing a practitioner is really as complicated and simple as that, with one approach to treatment being very similar to another for resolving musculoskeletal problems.
I chose to practice osteopathy because it suits my philosophy and the way that I like to work, but it is really about the practitioner and whether their approach to treating you works for you.

If you have been looking for a therapist I hope that this helps and if there is any more advice that I can give you, please get in touch.

A training program for disabled athletes…

Flexibility background concept

Well not sure where the last 4 months have gone, but they seem to have flown by!! When I started this blog I was going to try to post at least 1 article a month and here I am, a third of a year later finally completing the next instalment. The good news is that I have been very busy and the main topic of this post is the disabled athletes training program that I have been working on.

Due to my son’s interest in sport, I have been involved with a lot of clubs that cater for athletes with a disability and always wondered what I could do to support them. As club secretary for the Northants Phoenix Wheelchair basketball team I have provided osteopathic support for the players at some of their matches and treated a few of the team as well.
Athletic development is not my area of expertise (you only need to look at me to see that 🙂 ), but I recently met Kevin Jane who is a world champion powerlifter and someone who knows a bit about weight training! Following a few conversations we decided to set up a Disabled Athletes Development Program (DADP) combining strength and conditioning (S&C) with general training advice to see if there was any ‘real’ interest out there.

With very little promotion we recruited 6 candidates for the first S&C course which was completed in Dec 2013. Due to the very positive feedback that we received from everyone involved, we decided there was enough interest to try again.
The second S&C course started on Jan 29th, 2014 and included Mark Lewis, who is a functional training coach and personal trainer, to add an extra dimension to the proceedings. This time we had 14 participants with some familiar faces from the previous course plus some new ones including Tony Butcher who is a gold medal-winning disabled powerlifter and a potential candidate for Rio in 2016.
The first night involved general introductions with everyone saying why they were attending the course and what they hoped to achieve. This was followed by a basic training session to ease everyone in gently although there have been a few reports of aching muscles the following day 😀
Feedback so far has been excellent and we are expecting to see some real performance improvements over the next few weeks with everyone putting in maximum effort.
These photos will give you an idea of what we get up to.

strength and conditioning

Tom shows everyone how it should be done


strength and conditioning bench press

Courtney learning how to bench press 🙂


core work functional training

Mark and Alex doing some balance work

We are not currently taking any more candidates for this course, but will be looking to set up another one later this year. If you are a disabled athlete or a coach that knows someone that could benefit from attending one of our courses please contact me for more information at info@sollushealthcare.co.uk. If you are interested in seeing what we do just get in touch and let us know when you want to visit.

In the longer term we plan to expand the program to include a range of different therapies offering osteopathy, pilates, podiatry, nutrition, physiotherapy and sports psychology with access to facilities at the CMC including swimming, hydrotherapy, infra-red sauna and cryotherapy.

Watch this space, there is more to come…

Something about me….

When I am treating ‘a client’ i.e. you, it is your time and all about resolving your problems. I thought that I would make my first blog entry a short history about me just in case you were wondering who I am and why I chose to be an osteopath (on the other hand you may not be wondering so feel free to ignore this, I won’t take it personally!).

My name is Robert Allen and I am the owner of Sollus Healthcare, which is an osteopathic clinic that I set up just over 2 years ago. I obtained a degree in Applied Biology from Brunel University in 1983 then joined an IT company, as there weren’t many other jobs around at the time. I really enjoyed IT for a number of years, but eventually felt the need to look for something more challenging.
My son has cerebral palsy and we took him to Christophe Becquereau, an osteopath that had been recommended by a family friend. He responded well to the treatment and I became very interested in osteopathy and how it worked. I asked the osteopath a lot of questions and visited him on a few occasions to observe him treating other people. After a lot of consideration I eventually decided that osteopathy was something that I wanted to do and in 2006 I enrolled on a 5 year part time osteopathy course at Oxford Brookes. Going back to university as a mature student was an interesting experience which I managed to survive despite being older than most of the tutors. I still have nightmares about the whole learning/revision/exam process, but that is slowly getting better!!

Because I really like a challenge, I also trained as a dyslexia support tutor and sports massage therapist while studying for my degree. I graduated in 2011 and went to work at the Maple Tree Clinic which is run by Christophe, the osteopath that got me interested in osteopathy in the first place! In addition to working at the Maple Tree I run Sollus Healthcare which is my own practice, based in treatment rooms at the Chris Moody Centre in Northampton and Contented Soles in Daventry.

‘Sollus’ is latin for ‘Total’ and the clinic name deliberately does not mention osteopathy as it tends to limit people’s ideas about what we do. Osteopaths are generally associated with ‘bad backs’ and ‘something to do with bones’ and while this is true we have a lot more to offer. In addition to fixing bad backs Sollus Healthcare offers other services including workstation assessments and corporate osteopathy.
Future plans include the delivery of workshops covering a range of topics like sports injury prevention and rehabilitation and self-management of common problems e.g. low back pain, hip pain, knee pain etc. In addition to becoming a leading provider of osteopathic services Sollus Healthcare aims to become a key resource for information on the osteopathic management and treatment of disabilities, but that is something for another blog.

Watch this space there is lots more to come 🙂