What is a Muscle Cramp?

Muscle_CrampOftentimes when I go into wheel pose the inner arch of my right foot cramps. It feels as if the arch of my foot is being pulled higher with the big toe moving closer to the heel as the foot wants to curl under. My right side is where my bad stuff happens. My right psoas major is my tighter psoas muscle and as a result my right foot tends to turn out more.

Another manifestation of my right side tightness is when i set up for wheel from the top of my head, my right elbow is always wider out to the side than my left. My whole right side is slightly crunched, finding length and extension is a lot of effort.

There isn’t much scientific consensus about what causes muscle cramps. The standard tropes include dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and fatigue. While all are possible candidates for an explanation there is little scientific evidence to support them.

The fatigue hypotheses has a fancy name altered neuromuscular response. I didn’t quite understand everything I read about it but i think it is most in line with my take on the matter.

Muscles are designed to work together in one form or another. For one muscle to engage or shorten another muscle must relax or lengthen. This phenomenon is called reciprocal inhibition and it is the process that occurs when antagonistic muscles work together successfully a muscle cramp is often what happens when they dont work together.

The cramp will happen when the muscle that is supposed to relax can’t— causing the opposite muscle to cramp since it doesn’t have the objective abilty to stop contracting.Using the example of the hamstrings and quadriceps—a hamstring will cramp when  running if the quadriceps, for whatever reason, fails to relax when hamstring engages. As a result you have two contracted muscles and one of them is going to be unhappy.

I think cramps have everything to do with poor posture and the lack of balance between our flexors and extensors. One of the first exercises I do with clients is to test/stretch the ankles and the feet. Invariably those with tighter feet and ankles tend to cramp more readily than others.

When we live a lifetime with poor posture and imbalanced muscles it is likely that trouble will manifest over time. Cramping is a classic example of this. Why some people with poor posture manage to get away with things forever is a mystery to me but it does happen. Just like the odd smoker who can puff away for forty years without debilitating effects, some people manage to get away with bad posture and poor movement patterns. If you are someone who has experienced cramping in your musculature, it is probably a sign that you need to do work and make some changes to your body.


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