Monday, June 28, 2010

From Cramp to Comfort

Do you sometimes find yourself cramping up during an athletic event or waking up at night to a long, painful leg cramp?  If so, reciprocal inhibition (RI) is a tool you need.  Before we get into RI, lets discuss some of the reasons for muscle cramps:
  • Dehydration, either from a general lack of water intake or from prolonged sweating.
  • Lack of potassium.  Good sources of potassium are tomatoes, halibut, tuna, pork chops, clams, honeydew, and cantaloupe.
  • Lack of calcium. You can attain calcium from low carb sources like full fat cheese, salmon, sardines, nuts, spinach, broccoli, and sesame seeds.
  • Lack of magnesium. Various nuts (including almonds), seeds, halibut, tuna, and spinach are good sources of magnesium.
RI is a technique I learned in massage school to stop cramps when they occur.  In my experience, it will eliminate the cramp in less than five seconds.  RI is the contraction of the muscle opposite to that of the cramping muscle.  HOLD the contraction until the cramp dissolves.  It might be uncomfortable at the start, but should work quickly.

Examples of Reciprocal Inhibition for the Top 3 Muscle Cramps
  1. Bottom of the foot cramp (toes curl down): use RI by contracting the muscles on the top of your feet by performing toe extension, bringing your toes up (here is an example of toe extension).  
  2. Calf cramp: contract the muscle just outside of your shin (tibialis anterior) by bringing the top of your foot towards your knee (it's called dorsi flexion, which you can see here).  
  3. Hamstring cramp: the opposing muscles, the quadriceps, contract by straightening the leg, so try to straighten your leg by pushing your shin against an object in front of you (see here).
According to the Mayo Clinic, cramps can be a sign of a nerve impingement or poor blood supply to a specific region, so see a doctor if your cramps are frequent.  Otherwise, I'm confident RI can help you as it has helped my massage clients, my personal training clients, and me.

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