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A quick guide to cramps

A muscle that is cramping is in spasm. They're usually harmless and can happen at any time. But they are very painful and can last from a few seconds to 10 or more minutes, with the pain stopping you from moving.

Leg cramps can affect the calf or feet muscle, or those in the inner and outer thighs. After the cramp has stopped, the muscle might feel tender for up to 24 hours.

What are the causes?

The precise reason for some cramps is unknown but they get more common with aging. Prolonged strenuous exercise, pregnancy - usually in the last trimester - and medications for lowering cholesterol or high blood pressure can be to blame, as can dehydration and cirrhosis of the liver.

Things you can do

Most cramps go away eventually with little more than stretching and massaging the muscle. Walking around helps. There's no point in taking paracetamol or ibuprofen for cramps as they take too long to work, but they will help with muscle tenderness afterward.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if they disturb your sleep or if you also have numbness or swelling. If cramps started after you started taking a particular drug, ask your doctor about it.

What's the treatment ?

Stretching exercises help and there are quinine tablets if exercise hasn't helped. But since it can affect the heart, quinine isn't suitable for everyone. Never take quinine without prior discussion with your doctor to discuss potential risks and side effects.

Is it dangerous to crack your back?

On the same principle that cracking your knuckles won't give you arthritis, cracking your back is also safe if you do it every now and then.

It can even happen naturally, but if you make your back crack every few hours, that's a sign of repetitive stress. Your body is telling you to make some changes.

Here's how:

  • Get an adjustable computer stand that allows you to move from sitting in a chair to working standing up.

  • Stand up and walk around for a couple of minutes every half an hour.

  • Do stretching exercises to keep your joints and back supple.

  • Do exercises that strengthen your core and back muscles.

  • And finally, only let trained professionals crack your back.


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