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As a recent victim of several muscle cramps, I decided to take up the
matter as the topic of my extra credit project. Muscle cramps are muscle spasms
sustained for indefinite periods of time. Muscles involuntarily and forcibly contract,
resulting in a mild to intense pain that can last anywhere from seconds to over
fifteen minutes. Muscle cramps can appear visibly distorted or feel hard to the
touch compared to its normal, relaxed state. Muscle cramps have the ability to
affect any skeletal muscle, whether it be a part or all of a muscle, even
several muscle groups. Cramps are classified into four categories, based on
their causes and affected muscle groups. These four categories include: true
cramps, tetany, contractures, and dystonic cramps. However, this project is
going to address the most common type of muscle cramp: true cramps. Despite their
ability to occur in any skeletal muscle, these muscle cramps generally tend to
take place in three areas: the gastrocnemius, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Muscle
spasms occurring in these area (especially the gastrocnemius) are commonly
referred to as a “charley horse.” Victims of muscle spasms are vast, including
infants, seniors, overambitious exercisers, endurance athletes, and the ill.

What is the cause of the physiological phenomena that affects this vast array
of people? Unfortunately, muscle cramps are currently categorized as
idiopathic, not having a specific single cause. However, most experts agree
that most muscle spasms are primarily caused by the hyperexcitability of the
nerves that stimulate the muscles.

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The central nervous system’s fatigue or overuse of communication
with muscles weakens the restrictive quality of the central nervous system. Both
found in skeletal muscles, muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs are the
spinal reflex’s two receptors. Muscles spindles become hyperactive and Golgi
tendon organs become inhibited, leading to sustained activation of the muscle, otherwise
recognized as muscle cramps. 

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