Fix Your Muscle Cramps, and Figure Out What's Causing Them
If you've had a muscle cramp or spasm, you know how painful they can be. While they're generally harmless, a severe cramp can temporarily incapacitate the affected muscle leaving you in pain and unable to move freely.
So, why do they occur? The Mayo Clinic states that a muscle cramp is "a sudden and involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles." This can come as a result of the following:
1. Dehydration. Vigorous exercise, whether it's at the gym, or on the sports field, can result in a large amount of fluid loss through sweating. It's this fluid loss that can make muscles more prone to cramping. These effects are heightened in warm weather.
2. Diet deficiencies. A diet that includes too little potassium, magnesium, or calcium can also contribute to muscle cramps. A body deficient in these minerals causes nerves connected to the muscles to become more excitable—thus more prone to cramping.
3. Overuse of the muscle. Pushing a muscle to failure or holding a it in a singular position can strain the muscle and force it to cramp.
4. Arteriosclerosis. Limited blood flow to the muscle as a result of arteriosclerosis—the hardening of arteries due to diets high in fat and cholesterol—can cause cramp-like symptoms while exercising.
5. Medications. A variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications can cause muscles to cramp. Those that have diuretic effects can deplete the body of fluids, vitamins, and minerals.
While most muscle cramps are temporary and will go away on their own, severe cramps can last up to two hours. For quick relief try the following tips:
- Massage the affected muscle. This may be painful, but it will help.
- Hold the muscle in a stretched position until the cramp goes away.
- Apply a cold compress to release tension.
- Apply heat to any lingering tenderness after the cramp subsides.
- Prevent cramps by hydrating and stretching well before and after exercise.
If cramps persist, consult your physician to rule out a more serious underlying cause.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
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