|Have you ever
experienced a "charley horse"? If yes, you probably
still remember the sudden, tight and intense pain caused by a
muscle locked in spasm. A cramp is an involuntary and forcibly
contracted muscle that does not relax. Cramps can affect any
muscle in the body that is under your control. Muscles
that span two joints are most prone to cramping. Kids
experience muscle cramps as well, and the most
commonly affected muscle groups are:
Front of thigh
Back of thigh
Back of lower
Cramps in the feet, hands, arms, abdomen
and along the rib cage are also very common. Muscle cramps range
in intensity from a slight tic to agonizing pain. A cramping
muscle may feel hard to the touch and/or appear visibly
distorted or twitch beneath the skin. A cramp can last a few
seconds to 15 minutes or longer. It might recur multiple times
before it goes away.
Why cramps happen
Although the exact cause of muscle cramps
is unknown, the best explanation is that inadequate
stretching and muscle fatigue leads to abnormalities in
mechanisms that control muscle contraction. Other factors may
also be involved, including exercising or working in intense
heat, dehydration and depletion of salt and electrolytes.
Stretching and muscle fatigue:
Muscles are bundles of fibers that contract and expand to
produce movement. A regular program of stretching lengthens
muscle fibers so they can contract and tighten more vigorously
when your child exercises. If your youngster does not stretch
properly, they are
more likely to experience muscle fatigue, which can alter spinal
neural reflex activity. Overexertion depletes a muscle’s
oxygen supply, leading to build up of waste product and spasm.
When a cramp begins, the spinal cord stimulates the muscle to
Heat, dehydration and electrolyte
Muscle cramps are more likely when your
in hot weather because sweat drains their body’s fluids, salt
and minerals (i.e., potassium, magnesium and calcium). Loss of
these nutrients may also cause a muscle to spasm.
Who gets cramps
Some kids are pre-disposed to muscle
cramps and get them regularly with any physical exertion. Those
at greatest risk for cramps and other ailments related to excess
heat include infants and young children, and
those who are ill, overweight, overexert during work or
exercise, or take drugs or certain medications. Muscle cramps
are very common among endurance athletes (i.e., marathon runners
- Student athletes are more likely to get cramps
in the preseason when the body is not conditioned and
therefore more subject to fatigue. Cramps often develop near
the end of intense or prolonged exercise, or the night
Treatment and prevention
usually go away on their own without seeing a doctor. Self-care
- Have your child stop doing whatever activity triggered
- Have your youngster gently stretch and massage the cramping
muscle, holding it in stretched position until the cramp
- Apply heat to tense/tight muscles, or
cold to sore/tender muscles.
To avoid future cramps, have your
child work toward better
overall fitness. They should doo regular flexibility exercises before and
after they work out to stretch muscle groups most prone to
cramping. Always make sure they warm up before stretching.
Calf muscle stretch: In a standing
lunge with both feet pointed forward, straighten the rear leg.
(Repeat with opposite leg.)
Hamstring muscle stretch: Sit with
one leg folded in and the other straight out, foot upright and
toes and ankle relaxed. Lean forward slightly, touch foot of
straightened leg. (Repeat with opposite leg.)
Quadriceps muscle stretch: While
standing, hold top of foot with opposite hand and gently pull
heel toward buttocks. (Repeat with opposite leg.)
Hold each stretch briefly, then release.
Never stretch to the point of pain.
Abdominal spasms and the "Stitch in
the Side" can be caused by a variety of exercises and stretches,
even excessive deep inspirations and expirations. They are generally
caused by any of at least 13 muscle groups and are very difficult to
isolate. Therefore, it becomes almost impossible to release the spasm.
The best move to try to
alleviate the spasm is to have your child lay on their back and place both arms under the
head, grasping both elbows. Support the head by raising it as high as
you can. Have them take a deep forced inspiration and hold it for a count of 8,
then a deep forced expiration for a count of 8. Repeat as needed, until
there is relief of the spasm. For the "Stitch in The Side", if
the spasm is on the right side, repeat the above maneuver while pulling
the right elbow and head as far to the left as you can. For spasm on the
left side, reverse the above procedures.
To prevent cramps, make sure your
child keeps their body adequately hydrated as youngsters especially
drink enough liquids to replenish fluid lost during exercise.
- Drink water at regular intervals,
before you get thirsty.
- Drink more than your thirst requires.
- Drink fruit juice or a sports beverage
if you are working in heat or sweating for more than an