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Complementary medicine.

Byline: Dr YVONNE CASEY

WE'VE all seen exhausted sports stars go down in agony with cramp.

But it's not just the super-fit who suffer... it can hit just about anyone of us at any time.

Even fully-fledged couch potatoes can be hit by a sudden attack. And they can be excruciatingly painful.

In fact, most of us have experienced a muscle cramp or spasm at some stage in our lives.

Unfortunately, their timing can be annoyingly unpredictable. They just appear without any warning.

All that you feel you can do at the time is to leap around in the hope that it will go as quickly as it came.

We may be wakened in the middle of the night with a sharp, piercing pain in the leg, and it can also affect sports people during an energetic match.

So what happens to cause such discomfort? And, more to the point, what can be done to avoid them?

A cramp, which results from an abnormal muscle contraction, occurs as the muscle locks into an awkward and sustained spasm as a result of the contraction.

Although we tend to associate such an occurrence with the calf muscle, any muscle in the body is susceptible.

Muscle cramps have numerous possible causes, and it is advisable to have them assessed by your family doctor to exclude certain conditions that may be responsible.

Certain drugs may be to blame, so discuss this with your GP.

Not warming up prior to exercising is a common cause... as is not cooling down properly afterwards.

And, of course, over-exerting yourself during exercise is often the prelude to a painful muscle spasm.

Activities that cause excessive sweating and hence dehydration are also a well-known cause.

It is important to remember to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise to prevent the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles.

Other factors which can lead to a cramp include electrolyte imbalance and mineral deficiency.

Electrolytes can be found in the minerals potassium and sodium. They carry an electric charge to help trigger the muscles to contract and relax.

Dehydration can disrupt this balance and lead to cramps.

Sometimes too little or too much of certain minerals other than potassium and sodium in your diet can result in the on-set of a painful attack.

Calcium and magnesium have, in fact, been linked to leg spasms and cramps, as has vitamin E deficiency, which may in certain circumstances be connected with poor circulation.

So it is sensible to start to look at dietary additions - to include plenty of calcium-rich foods, dairy products, yoghurt, fish and green leafy vegetables, particularly broccoli, which is also a good source of potassium.

Potatoes, tomatoes, oranges and bananas are also potassium-rich.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine, since both these drinks have dehydrating effects.

In addition to making the necessary dietary adjustments, the herbal remedy, Petaforce can be of tremendous benefit.

It acts as a natural "anti-spasmodic", and also helps to relieve the pain of the muscular tightness.

It comes in tablet form, so it is quick and easy to take when the need arises. Take two tablets three times a day, as well as supplementing with vitamin E.

It is important to inform your own doctor of any additions made to already prescribed medication.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 11, 2002
Words:547
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