Muscle Cramps and RA

Last updated: November 2022

Along with the pain associated with our joints that are a distinct mark of an RA flare, some also experience muscle cramps. Though not necessarily related to a flare, there is an association with RA. Joint inflammation can cause our muscles to tighten and cramp. Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, may be linked to muscle pain and cramping.1

Painful foot cramps

I have suffered from painful foot cramps for many years, and I often wonder if they are related to my RA. I noted that they accompany foot joint pain, but they can pop up anytime. That is so often the case with the serendipitous nature of RA. Just when I think I have linked a cause and effect, this disease proves me wrong. Muscle cramps are just one example, but one that needs attention and management.

Tips that have helped my muscle cramps

Muscle cramps are difficult to control and can be very troublesome, even debilitating, if not addressed. There are several strategies I utilize to contend with these charming cramps. 

Heat

One way is any form of heat such as heating pads, hot Epsom salt baths, a nice massage, jacuzzi, muscle cramp relieving ointments, muscle massage tools, and, if necessary, OTC medications.

Exercise

Believe it or not, exercise also helps with muscle cramps. First, regular exercise keeps our muscles toned, flexible, and strong, which helps offset or possibly even prevent some of the cramps we experience along with our RA.

Additionally, exercise can relieve the discomfort of muscle cramping.2 That may sound counterintuitive, but the fact is that stretching or moving that muscle can bring relief. I also find swimming or any water exercise provides prevention and relief for muscle cramps. The other day my foot cramps were happening non-stop, so I decided to head to the pool and walk in the water. Thankfully, I got relief in very short order. Water provides a joint and muscle-neutral environment, so it is perfect for just about any type of exercise!

Walking

Walking is a great way to keep those calves, thighs, quads, hamstrings, etc., loose and moving. Using your muscles keeps them from tightening up, which is often the first sensation we get before the pain of a cramp sets in. I also highly recommend Tai Chi. The slow, continuous movements of Tai Chi are perfect for toning and strengthening our muscles, not to mention how good it is for balance and joint strength.

Massage

When I do get a cramp (often while I'm in bed in the middle of the night), trying to figure out how to contend with it can be challenging. I find that elongating and massaging the muscle works well. If my foot is cramping, I bend and stretch it away from the muscle knot. Also, calf tightness can cause referred pain in the feet, so massaging your calves may help as well. It is surprising how often referred pain from one area causes discomfort in another.

With the knowledge and tools to deal with muscle cramps, we can offset the challenge they present as we move through our RA journey.

Nan

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