Calf cramps are sudden, involuntary contractions of the calf muscles. Reasons for such cramps frequently include dehydration, a lack of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, or sodium, lack of a warm up or cool down, sleeping in the same position for too long, or amping up intensity too much, too soon during exercise. These muscle cramps can last anywhere from a few seconds to 10 minutes. They can be painful and a nuisance to wake up to in the middle of the night.
As a manual therapist, what can you do to help?
If a client comes to you complaining of calf cramps, there are many educational tips and manual techniques you can apply to aid in reducing muscle cramp occurrence.
First, a proper assessment of the gastrocnemius muscle should be completed to determine if the calf muscle is short. To do so, test the ankle’s range of motion in dorsiflexion. If the range does not reach 90 degrees, the gastrocnemius is considered short. Manual techniques, such as the Muscle Energy Technique or MET, can be applied to help lengthen the calf muscle.
MET is an active manual therapy technique where the client gently contracts the muscles and then relaxes as the therapist manually lengthens the muscle. For the gastrocnemius muscle, the client would plantarflex the foot against the therapist's hand for 5-10 seconds. After 5-10 seconds, the patient relaxes, and the therapist pushes the foot into dorsiflexion as far as the limb can comfortably go. This process is repeated 3-5 times in a single session. Essentially, this technique helps realign and lengthen the muscle fibers preventing knots or tension points associated with cramps from occurring.
Further tips you can offer your clients regarding calf cramps include:
Follow the above tips and be prepared for your next client reporting issues with calf cramps. Check out iBody Academy’s online courses for more info on the Muscle Energy Technique.