Hey look over there, it’s a break dancer… no it’s a B-Boy doing his thing… actually, it’s just Ned the resident nerd with a monster cramp in his foot.
I know I should be rushing over to administer first aid, but I feel this is the best time to write an extra long, informative segment on cramping – with the help of the now wincing resident nerd of course.
Let’s wait as he painstakingly makes his way over here, that way, we can really get a great description of how it feels.
But seriously, there’s nothing funny about any type of cramping even though a sudden attack can leave you in some pretty precarious positions. The thing with cramping is that there are very many different types and causes – meaning that it can hit you anywhere, and at any time.
You could be just sitting around doing nothing at the office (goddamn Ned) and a leg cramp destroys you, or just playing around with the girls at the spa and a cruel cramp reminds you that it’s that time of the month again.
So you see, there’s plenty to talk about in today’s, cramp-packed segment. Lucky for us, the resident nerd is finally here to give us a firsthand experience. He’s catching his breath – can’t believe he limped his way up three flights of stairs.
Like I always say, I’ll do anything for my lovely Olive Nation (which includes abusing my power at the workplace).
Hey, all in the name of science; plus you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few interns, am I right? Let’s dive right into Olivia’s ultimate guide to understanding, treating and preventing all types of cramps.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is A Cramp?
- 2 Types of Cramps
- 3 Treating Muscle Cramps
- 4 Can Essential Oils Help With Cramping
- 5 Recommended Product For Cramps
- 6 Best Essential Oils For Cramping
- 7 Essential Oil Recipes For Cramping
- 8 The Do’s and Don’ts of Essential Oils Treatment For Cramping
- 9 Final Word
What Is A Cramp?
Cramping can be referred to as an involuntary or forcibly contracted muscle contraction that just won’t relax. If you’ve ever been stopped dead in your tracks by a Charlie horse, then you know what I’m talking about. Although pompous doctors will tell you that cramping is usually mild, temporary and non damaging, it often doesn’t feel that way.
The effect of the cramp will mostly depend on where it is. But you can expect significant pain, tightness, and immobility of the area similar to paralysis. Typically, the onset is immediate or sudden and resolves itself within seconds, minutes… or even hours!
Cramping can occur in the skeletal muscle due to factors like muscle fatigue such as Ned’s case here. Or it can also occur in the smooth muscles such as menstruation or regular bouts of gastroenteritis. Alright, let’s move on to the different types of cramping and their symptoms.
Types of Cramps
Cramps usually start off as spasms. But when the spasm gets too forceful and sustained for a while, then you’re definitely cramping. Some cramps cause a palpable or visible hardening of the affected area. The cramp could involve either the entire muscle, part of it, or several muscles that normally act together. With all the different types of cramping there is, almost everyone will experience one at some point in their lives.
A: Skeletal Muscle Cramps
These can be further categorized into four major types, all according to the causes as well as the group of muscles affected. What? We did promise an ultimate, comprehensive guide, right?
a) True cramps
These types of cramps usually engage either part or all of the muscles that generally act together. Medical professionals are finally starting to agree that true cramps are caused by hyerexcitability of the nerves which simulate muscles such as the ones which flex several fingers. These are the most common of all skeletal cramps.
Causes of True Cramps
Injury and Vigourous Activity
Most skeletal cramping tends to be associated with muscle fatigue as a result of vigorous use. That’s why you’ll often hear plenty of sports enthusiasts with Charlie horses, hamstrings and all those fancy injury terms.
This type of cramping could occur either during the activity or much later. Similarly, muscle fatigue could occur from being seated or lying down in awkward poses for long periods.
While it could also be put down under vigorous activity, dehydration on its own could cause cramping. The excessive fluid loss coupled with warmer temperatures increases the chance of getting true cramps.
What’s more, medicines that promote urination and lack of proper fluid intake only put you more disposed to cramps.
Low Blood Magnesium and Calcium
A decrease in any of these elements in the body directly increases excitability of both muscles and nerve endings. This has been found t be a key factor for those spontaneous, true cramps experienced during pregnancy.
Body Fluid Shifts
Much like deficiencies, true cramps can also be experienced in different conditions that feature unusual distribution of body fluids. One such example is liver cirrhosis that leads to fluid accumulation in your abdominal cavity.
So in some cases, cramping might just be your body’s way of telling you about some serious underlying issues.
b) Dystonic Cramps
In this category, the muscles that are actually not required for movement are stimulated or excited to contract. Typically, dystonic cramps affect muscles that ordinarily wok in opposite directions and those that exaggerate movement.
Most dystonic cramping usually affects jaws, eyelids, larynx, neck, and maybe the hands in cases of repetitive activities such as writers and musician’s cramps.
B: Smooth Muscle Cramps
For women, smooth muscle cramps are quite common since they occur before or during the menstruation cycle. However, they could also be precursors to health issues such as gastroenteritis or endometriosis.
a) Menstrual Cramps
Also known as dysmenorrhea, menstrual cramps are painful sensations that women have to face both before and during that time of the month. This cramping is usually in the lower back and abdomen and ranges from a dull, pestering discomfort to severely painful chained spasms.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the cramps tend to be accompanied by other symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea.
Medically Induced Cramps
Of all the different types and causes of cramping, this one has to be the most bizarre and unfair. Who knew that the medication you’re taking to cure one ailment could actually be causing you daily pain or even leading to another ailment? There is a throng of medicines and pharmaceuticals that have all been proven to cause cramps.
The most likely culprit for this one is potent diuretic medications. These include furosemide which is even further aggravated by the excessive elimination of fluids, Even with milder diuretics these drugs will rob your body of calcium, potassium, sodium, and more fluid; causing severe cramping.
Likewise, Alzheimer’s medications such as donepezil and others like raloxifene used to prevent osteoporosis can also cause cramping.
Other pharmaceuticals such as Tasmar used to treat Parkinson’s disease, Procardia used for high blood pressure and certain asthma drugs have also been reported to cause true cramping in at least 10% of all patients.
You know what else is interesting? Individuals going through withdrawal from drug and substance abuse (alcohol included) almost always have cramping. This includes people addicted to valium, Xanax, anti-anxiety meds, narcotics, and other drugs. So you see how the withdrawal process can become physical torture for addicts trying to quit.
Treating Muscle Cramps
More often than not, any treatment towards cramping will always focus on any underlying conditions that could be causing them. But if the patient is in excruciating pain, doctors will use muscle relaxant medications – but only short term. Some of these medications include baclofen, orphenadrine and cyclobenzaprine.
More recently though, medical professionals have started using botulism toxin (Botox) injected in therapeutic doses as a way to treat dystonic cramps. These tend to last only a couple months, and then the treatment has to be repeated. So what am I trying to say?
Cramps are inevitable guys, and the medical treatments are close to nil. You hear that Ned, should have just prevented it in the first place. And you’d be surprised how easy it is to prevent pretty much all types of cramps. Once in a while, you get a condition where the prevention measures are way more effective than any type of treatment.
Don’t believe me? Well, see for yourself.
When we started out, you all thought I was being cruel to the resident nerd by making him limp around in pain. Turns out that I was helping him all along by making him walk it off.
Most cramps can actually usually be stopped if the affected muscle is stretched out. You see that; Olivia always knows best.
For most skeletal muscle cramps (i.e. feet, legs, hands), this stretching can be accomplished by just walking around. Another technique is to lean on a wall or flex your ankles if your cramp got you resting.
Similarly, heat and massage could help if the cramp is caused by physical activity or fluid loss. In the end, the best way is to prevent these cramps.
Preventing Cramps During Activity – There’s a reason why pro-athletes warm up before getting in the field. That’s because stretching before exercise or physical activity helps prevents cramps.
Good hydration and cool down afterwards is also important to replace electrolytes and cool you down to prevent cramping.
Preventing Resting Cramps – Turns out that you might have to start stretching and yoga before you hop in bed. A few minutes of stretching exercises will help prevent night cramps or cramping from inactivity.
Preventing Cramping During Pregnancy – Since calcium and magnesium deficiencies have been shown to be the main cause of cramping in pregnant women, taking the respective supplements should help you prevent the cramping.
Preventing Dystonic Cramps – Sometimes, cramps induced by repeated activity can be minimized by careful attention to certain ergonomic factors. This includes adjusting chair positions, taking frequent breaks, using more comfortable equipment among others.
Medical Prevention of Cramping
Currently, the only type of medication that has been used to treat and prevent cramping is quinine. Yeap, that’s also the drug used to treat malaria. Quinine acts by decreasing the muscles excitability.
However, it comes at a steep cost. In addition to severe side effects such as headache, nausea, deafness, and vision issues, quinine has been known to cause miscarriages and birth defects – all of a sudden, medical treatment doesn’t sound too attractive.
Can Essential Oils Help With Cramping
There’s no question about it; cramping can be very painful and disabling no matter where it is. Whether it’s on the leg or caused by your periods, it’s safe to say that we all want the pain to go away immediately.
But having seen just how toxic, extreme, and barely effective some of these treatments are, you have to questing if it’s really worth it. Personally, I wouldn’t take a drug that promises to take away my menstrual cramps only to give me liver disease or brain damage.
This is where natural, alternative treatments come in to save the day. Not only are essential oils far much safer than any of the other medical treatments, but they do their thing without virtually any side effects.
With the right essential oils, you can beat most of the causes of cramping by improving your blood circulation, relaxing excited muscles, pumping up the mineral levels in your body, healing injuries quicker and sedating painful spasms. Let’s look at some of the wonderful oils that you need to be using.
Recommended Product For Cramps
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Best Essential Oils For Cramping
This is without a doubt one of the most popular and versatile essential oils of them all. Not only can it be utilized to help with a broad spectrum of medical complaints physically, but it also works wonders for your mental state as well.
Traditionally, lavender already has a long history of treating cramps and spasms thanks to its potent sedative and antispasmodic properties. Similarly, lavender oil also helps fight skin infections and improve blood circulation; a great factor if your cramping is caused by injury or inactivity.
And as a bonus, the pleasant scent of lavender is highly effective for soothing the mind and easing stress which has been known to cause cramping.
When it comes to menstrual cramps, nothing beats good old peppermint with its life-saving relief. Peppermint oil boasts of a property known as Menthol that gives it a very soothing, and cooling effect that tops off into the most refreshing fragrance you’ll ever smell.
Likewise, the anti-inflammatory properties of this oil makes it possible to bring down any swelling in a safer and more natural way. So when it’s that time of the month and you’re really feeling down and out, make sure you get peppermint for an instant effect on both the cramping and energy levels.
Traditionally, native Americans used wintergreen oil to help eliminate joint stiffness and muscle pains. Extracted from the Wintergreen plant, this essential oil is one of the few natural sources of methyl salicylate – a major ingredient in aspirin.
So you see guys, almost all the drugs you get in pharmacies can be found in essential oils in much healthier forms. Research also shows that wintergreen oil has incredibly powerful effects similar to cortisone which provides patients with immediate pain relief.
Combine that with the oil’s natural anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties and you have quite the effective remedy for muscular pains, headaches, spasms and all sorts of cramping.
Also referred to as the happiness herb (because it leaves you feeling happier), marjoram oil also boasts of quite the list of properties that are just perfect for abdominal cramping. No matter the cause, you can rely on the powerful anstispasmodic characteristics of Marjoram oil to ease the uncomfortable intestinal spasms and menstrual cramps.
Being a vasodilator, marjoram helps widen your blood vessels and encourage healthy circulation. This ensures the muscles and uterus get an ample supply of oxygen, blood, and nutrients to reduce periodic cramps.
Being a traditionally proven remedy for relieving stiffness and rheumatism, it’s only natural that eucalyptus be a sure candidate for treating cramping. It contains antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, sedative, and oxygenating properties that all work together to treat skeletal and smooth muscle cramps, pains and spasms.
The analgesic quality of eucalyptus oil makes it the king of calming and easing tension on the nerves and muscles. And much like peppermint, Eucalyptus has a cooling effect that works great for pain management.
6. Clary Sage
Here’s an essential oil that no woman should lack. Why’s that? Because it’s been reported to help balance out female hormones and improve most of the symptoms that come with that time of the month.
This includes those awful cramps, aches, PMS, and most particularly- mood swings. So guys, if your girl always goes off on you during this time, a little Clary Sage might help calm things down some. And since this oil promotes blood flow and balances hormones, it’s also a great friend to have when menopause comes knocking.
Ever try to run a beer mile? It’s where you load up on alcohol and try to run. If you’ve never tried it, just try to jog the morning after a hard night out and you’re likely to get cramped left right and center.
What I’m trying to say is that if you body is full of toxins, then cramping is just one more issue you’ll have to go through. And lemon essential oil is just the perfect solution. Packed with a lot more antioxidants, lemon oil boasts of the most potent detoxing properties.
Used well, it could help push out all the toxins in your body by helping the liver perform more effectively. Combined with a little exercise, lemon oil will help you both treat and prevent further cases of skeletal muscle cramping.
Essential Oil Recipes For Cramping
Recipe 1: Resident Nerd Leg Cramp Massage Blend
Ingredients – Ned, grab me the following stuff and we’ll get kicking
- 10 drops Marjoram
- 8 drops Lavender
- 5 drops Ginger
- 7 drops Black Pepper
- 3 drops Helichrysum
- 60 ml (2 oz.) Coconut/Olive oil
Congrats to our resident nerd, you finally got a recipe named after you; and I gotta say, you earned it. This recipe is especially handy if your cramps are caused from sitting all day or as a result of rigorous physical activity. As you can see, we chose Marjoram as the star because it will help with Ned’s uterus… Haha, but seriously, the Marjoram is a great antispasmodic and vasodilator that widens the blood vessels and helps muscles relax.
To cook up this here Nerd cramp recipe, start by pouring the essential oils in a small glass bottle and top it off with your choice carrier oil before giving it a good shake. Next, use the oil as massage cream to massage your leg upwards and the cramping should go down after a while. You can get someone to help for a deeper massage.
Recipe 2: Menstrual Cramps Relief Dropper Blend
- 8 drops Clary Sage
- 6 drops Peppermint
- 4 drops Marjoram
- 2 drops Ginger
- 30 ml (1 oz.) fractionated coconut oil
I’ll be honest, whenever the word cramps come up, periods are almost always the first culprits anyone thinks of. Since they affect literally more than half of the world’s population, we picked out only the best oils for the job.
Once you get all the oils mixed up in a non reactive bowl, rub it on your palms and then apply it gently via massage to the abdomen, feet, ankles, and anywhere else that could use some soothing.
Recipe 3: Smooth Muscle Cramp Warm Compress
What you need
- 3 drops Eucalyptus
- 2 drops Lavender
- 2 drops Clary Sage
- Warm water and a cloth
Some smooth muscle cramps could be caused by contractions of the nerve and muscles. So to loosen and relax them, application of heat is always recommended. For our compress, we went with a traditionally proven remedy for relieving stiffness and rheumatism.
To use this recipe, kick off by adding about 2 cups of warm water in a non reactive bowl and the dripping in the essential oils as instructed above. Stir well and then soak your cloth in the blend thoroughly. Wring out the cloth so it doesn’t drip and make a mess. Place the cloth over the cramped up area and the heat should work great with the oils to offer quick relief.
Recipe 4: PMS and Menopause Milk Bath
- 5 drops Lavender
- 8 drops Mandarin
- 6 drops Peppermint
- 4 drops Rose
- Cup of milk
Ladies, this one is just for you. It’s so unfair that whether you’re young or old, these blasted hormones still keep wrecking havoc on our bodies. I mean, when you’re in your prime, you’ve gotta worry about menstruation and all the aches that come with it.
Once you’re old, then menopause kicks in and all the hot flashes that come with it. That’s why I cooked up this recipe to help women of all ages relax and wind down after a hard day working and taking care of the family.
Just pop all the oils and milk in a warm bath and soak for about half an hour once every couple of days.
Recipe 5: Instant Cramp Relief Formula for Exercise
- 8 drops Wintergreen
- 5 drops Peppermint
- 4 drops Lemon
- 30 ml (1 oz.) Choice of carrier oil
Whether you’re looking to treat cramps that result from physical activity or prevent them, it’s always best to be prepared. This here recipe will help your muscles remain in peak hydration, oxidation and circulation.
To use the blend, mix all the oils as indicated and then massage to your legs, feet, or anywhere else that’s cramping or prone to cramps.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Essential Oils Treatment For Cramping
In order for you to make the most of your oils and get the best results for the treatment, there are a few crucial and helpful tips that need to be observed.
Although reactions to treatment will depend on the individual (people react different to whatever treatment), following these do’s and don’ts should help make the process safe and seamless.
- Don’t use essential oils in their natural form for topical application. Dilute your essential oils in generous amounts of carrier oil. Ethereal oils are incredibly concentrated and could cause irritation to hypersensitive skin. So dilute it as you comfortably can to dull down the harshness.
- Do wash off the essential oils from your skin after deep massages. While most blends are harmless and will all be absorbed, others don’t work so well when left for too long. So after every massage, a good rule of thumb is to work the oils in generously, and then wash off the legs, hands, abdomen and applied area after a few hours.
- Do try to combine more than one essential oil recipe. It’s always more beneficial to combine a couple of recipes that complement each other for more effective healing. For example, combining massage rubs with essential oil compress treatment could help bring the cramping down much quicker. Add heat to the equation, and you get the picture.
- Do repeat the essential oil treatments more than once to get the best results. Don’t expect all your future cramps to be gone at the first application.
- Don’t exercise or engage in strenuous activity while cramped; wait until the tightness and pain goes down first.
There you have it my beloved readers, everything you need to know about cramping all under one roof. With this knowledge, I don’t expect cramping to sneak up on you unawares. I’ve prepared you enough to know how to avoid and prevent most of the cause of cramping.
But just in case it still gets you, no worries – the essential oil recipes provided above should help you restore lost function, ease muscle and nerve tension, manage the pain that comes with cramping and be able to lead a normal, fluid life.
So what are you waiting for? Go ye out there and cramp no more.