Tips for dealing with muscle cramps

Daisy Keza used to feel comfortable and confident when wearing high heels. However, having worn such shoes for quite some time, she developed a leg cramp and went for a check-up.

When Keza went to the hospital, a physiotherapist was sure that her leg cramp was caused by wearing high heels for long hours, and so treatment required lengthening of the cramping muscle using a calm, continuous stretch, and then a light massage around the area until the cramp lessened. She was advised to stop wearing high heels for long hours as they would cause some more complications with her muscles.


Health experts say that the abrupt feeling of overwhelming and painful spasms in the muscle, muscle contracting, lack of physical activity, inappropriate massage, are some of the causes of muscle cramps.


They also explain that muscle cramps can occur in any muscle; cramps of the leg muscles and feet, are particularly common and almost everyone experiences a muscle cramp at some time in their life, and can be caused during exercise, at rest, or at night. Dehydration is a common cause of muscle cramps. Numerous medicines can cause muscle cramps; most muscle cramps can be stopped if the muscle can be stretched.


Aniket Ukey, a fitness consultant and yoga instructor in Kigali, says that a muscle cramp is a sudden, involuntary muscle contraction or over shortening. While generally temporary and non-damaging, they can cause significant pain and a paralysis-like immobility of the affected muscle. Onset is usually sudden and it resolves on its own over a period of several seconds, minutes, or hours.

He says that the major causes of muscle cramps are overuse of a muscle, dehydration, muscle strain or simply holding a position for a prolonged period. In many cases, however, the cause isn’t known. Although, most muscle cramps are harmless, some may be related to an underlying medical condition, such as, inadequate blood supply.


Ukey points out that you should drink plenty of liquids every day. The amount depends on what you eat, your sex, your level of activity, the weather, health, your age and medications you take.

“Fluids help your muscles contract, relax and keep muscle cells hydrated and less irritable. During activity, refill fluids at regular intervals, and continue drinking water or other fluids after you are done,” he says.

Ukey adds that you should also stretch your muscles. Stretch before and after you use any muscle for an extended period. If you tend to have leg cramps at night, stretch before bedtime. Light exercise, such as riding a stationary bicycle for a few minutes before bedtime, may also help prevent cramps while you are sleeping.

When to see the doctor

Jean-Jules Alexis Byamukama, a physical therapist at Centre Medical ORKIDE Kigali, says that if the muscle cramps cause severe discomfort, occur often, don’t recover with self-care, are linked with leg swelling, redness or skin changes, connected with muscle weakness or associated with a noticeable cause — like strenuous exercise — then it is advisable to see a doctor.

Risk factors

Byamukama says that the risk factors could be tight, unbending muscles, poor physical condition, poor muscle tone, poor diet, physical overexertion or physical effort of cold muscles, muscle damage, muscle exhaustion, extreme perspiration, dehydration, reduced blood supply, or wearing high heel shoes for lengthy periods.

Prevention tactics

Byamukama says, “You can reduce a muscle cramp through increasing the level of physical fitness, include regular stretching into your fitness routine, warm up and cool down carefully whenever you exercise or play any sport. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.”

He adds that you should keep in mind having a nutritious diet, and include plenty of fruits and vegetables. Nevertheless, a regular massage may help to reduce muscle tension, but it is also important to wear right fitted shoes and avoid high heels.

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