Muscle cramps, explained

Almost everyone experiences muscle cramps at some point in their lives, you could be drifting off to sleep or out for long out for a walk when it happens: the muscles of your calf or foot suddenly become hard, tight and extremely painful.


What is cramp?

They are caused by involuntary contractions or muscle spasms of one or more muscles. Besides the foot and calf muscles, other areas prone to these spasms include the front and back of the thigh, the hands, arms, abdomen and muscles along the ribcage.


Cramp is defined as a sudden involuntary contraction of a muscle or muscles, while generally temporary and non-damaging, they can cause mild to excruciating pain.


Causes?

  • Muscle cramps can have many possible causes including:
  • Poor blood circulation in the legs
  • Overexertion of the calf muscles while exercising
  • Insufficient warm-up or stretching before exercise
  • Exercising in the heat
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Deficiencies; magnesium potassium or calcium
  • Malfunctioning nerves, caused by an illness, spinal cord injury or nerve entrapment back
  • Or as a side effect of medication

What is the best way to make a leg cramp go away?

In most cases, self-care measures are usually sufficient for dealing with muscle cramps. Instinct usually takes over, and people will massage and stretch the affected muscle, which typically resolves the problem within minutes. Other options which may help include if appropriate to take a hot shower to warm and relax the muscle.

Taking a bath with Epsom salts, the magnesium in Epsom salt promotes muscle relaxation.

However, if you frequently experience cramps or they occur for no apparent reason, please seek medical advice, as this could sign of a medical problem that requires investigation and treatment.


Reducing your risks

Although not fully understood studies show that dehydration and muscle cramping are related, so keeping well dehydrated especially after exercise and during the colder months, when people rarely felt thirsty and maybe a helpful prevention tip.

Simple measures may prevent nighttime calf cramps such as trying not tucking feet into sheets too tightly as this bends the toes downward, which can trigger cramps.

Another tip is to walk on the spot as you brush your teeth, this simple exercises increases the blood supply and may prevent  sleep being disturbed by the horrible middle of the night cramps

Low levels of minerals known as electrolytes which include potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium can contribute to muscle cramps. You probably do not need more sodium in your diet, but you may need more of the others. Good food sources of magnesium include whole-grain bread and cereals, nuts and beans. You can get potassium from most fruits and vegetables, especially bananas, oranges and cantaloupes. Dairy foods supply calcium.

Magnesium is also available in topical applications, oil sprays are readily absorbed through the skin, and this is an easy way to address deficiencies, click here to read the blog on Magnesium 


When to see a doctor?

If leg cramps become a persistent and recurring problem, see your GP, medications and medical history should be reviewed to investigate for possible factors contributing to leg cramps. Sometimes a blood test may be useful to check the levels of potassium, and other electrolytes are within normal range as electrolyte imbalances can cause cramping. There are also muscle relaxing medications that can be prescribed if the muscle is cramping particularly problematic at night.