Recent events have kept us all much less active than normal. When we are able to get out and be active, however, an unwanted friend seems to follow close behind: muscle spasms. They go by many other names: Charlie horse, cramps, stitch, crick, hot poker stabbing into your back/legs/shoulders, but they all come down to your muscles spasming for a number of reasons. You are not alone and there is an easy solution to the sharp pain that may be stopping you from achieving the level of activity or fitness you are trying to reach. We would like to take time to better understand what a muscle spasm is so that it’s easier to understand how to stop and prevent them with massage therapy.
You’re jogging along your favorite trail and a sharp pain in your calf stops you in your tracks. Looking at the muscle in your calf you can see the muscles contracting and pulling your heel back. If you could zoom into the fibers of your calf you would see that the nerves are causing them to fire involuntarily due to either an imbalance of chemicals or possibly hyper-irritability of motor nerves, causing them to continuously send signals to contract to the muscle. Calcium is necessary for both the contraction and relaxation of a muscle. If there is a lack of it, a muscle will contract but will not be able to release without an outside force working on it. So, what do you do?
The first way to immediately rid yourself of a muscle spasm is to do an active stretch. Sounds too easy right? But when you do an active stretch of the muscle that is in spasm, it disrupts the signal being sent to it. If the back of your calf is spasming, you will need to pull your toes up towards you. By doing this you are causing a contraction in the opposite muscle(s) that are in spasm. This utilizes a reflex loop where when one muscle contracts (or flexes), the opposite has to relax. This interrupts the current spasm, but for the future, how do you stop them from continuing?
As stated before, calcium is necessary for muscular contraction and relaxation. Also needed is magnesium, potassium, and a well hydrated circulatory system that can carry these nutrients to the muscles and away from them. However, even the most seasoned athlete and enthusiastic cyclists still get cramps. So, what else can you do to make sure the nutrients you are intaking are actually making it to the cells of your muscles to prevent cramps? Massage can help in a number of different ways. Let us delve into exactly how and why.
Circulation is major when it comes to keeping our muscles functioning correctly. Blood carries nutrients to your muscles, dowsing them in oxygen and all the other biochemicals they need. You can have the best diet in the world but if it is not getting circulated throughout your body it does you absolutely no good. Massage is an excellent way to improve circulation. How? It all comes down to how our body works. You see the heart pumps blood away from itself but our circulatory system needs muscle contraction to help get blood fully circulated back up to the heart. If you lead a sedentary life, which most of us have recently due to the pandemic, blood and nutrients become stagnant in our tissues at the cellular level. Massage manually squishes and lifts soft tissue, flushing out the stagnant nutrients so that they can go where they are needed. It stimulates the circulatory system like a jump start and gets everything moving.
Another important factor to consider when trying to avoid muscle crams is the health of the muscles themselves. Are they weak and collapsed from hours at the computer or on the couch? Are they hard and stressed from long periods of repetitive activity? If you’re jumping back into working out or just suffering from a cramping muscle form overusing it, massage can help lengthen and stretch the muscle out so that it is in a neutral and pliable state. An easy way to think of why keeping muscles relaxed helps to prevent cramps is this: if you drop a spaghetti noodle on the ground when it is uncooked and stiff it will break, but if you drop it in a cooked, flexible and pliable state, it will remain intact. Our muscles are supposed to be soft and flexible, able to take on whatever job we need them to in our daily lives. When they are hard and immobile, they are much more susceptible to injury. Keeping muscles soft and relaxed is more than just physically pleasing, on a cellular level it is allowing the maximum amount of fibers to be available for contraction. If half of the muscle fibers are already in that contracted state, they are unable to do the work you need them to do. Getting them to relax allows better functioning, and less cramping, of the whole muscle.
A third way massage improves your chance of not cramping is by riding the body of metabolic wastes. Just as your circulatory system needs muscular contraction to keep blood flowing, your lymphatic system needs it doubly so. Your lymphatic system is in charge of getting rid of the body’s waste, however unlike the circulatory system, it has no pump at all. This means that it needs those muscles constantly contracting to continue to circulate waste to the urinary system. This worked way better when we had to hunt and gather, constantly moving throughout the day. However, in today’s world, even having an active job you will most likely only move in a certain way all day. Whether it’s walking or working on cars, your movements generally stay in one plane of motion. Massage manipulates the soft tissues that are holding on to this waste and pushes it through your body to be disposed of properly. Ever get up from a massage and have to pee right away? This is caused by the increase in activity in your lymphatic system the massage stimulated. Keeping muscles flushed of waste allows for good nutrients to replenish them so that they are able to function properly.
Here at Unlimited Bodywork we strive to do our part to keep our client’s bodies healthy so that you can focus on keeping up with work, kids, and the Colorado lifestyle. Massage keeps your muscles flushed with nutrients, rids them of waste, and keeps them relaxed and pliable to do whatever it is that you need them to do. Call today to schedule your appointment and reap the benefits your body needs.