What are Muscle cramps?
It is a sudden involuntary contraction in one or more of your muscles often felt as sharp pain. Tightness or a hard lump can be felt or seen in the affected muscle. Muscle cramps may occur during exercise, at rest, or at night, depending upon the exact cause. Commonly affected muscles are lower leg muscles(calf), muscles of the hands and feet and the thigh muscles (hamstrings and quadriceps). They are usually seen in the elderly population because of muscle loss and shortening of tendons with ageing. Muscle cramps usually last from few seconds to few minutes or may be half an hour occasionally. Cramps are usually harmless.
Causes of Muscle Cramps-
- Overusing the muscles- Excessive exercising or strenuous physical activity leads to muscle overuse. It also results from muscle fatigue from prolonged sitting or lying.
- Dehydration from excessive fluid loss by perspiration leading to low sodium levels in the body. Its common during hot weather.
- Nerve compression in spine.
- Pregnancy-Due to increase stress on muscles from growing belly and circulatory changes associated with pregnancy.
- Low mineral levels in the body especially calcium, potassium and magnesium.
- Certain medical conditions like diabetes, neural disorders, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular disorders and kidney failure.
- Arteriosclerosis leading to inadequate blood supply to legs and arms.
- Certain medications like diuretics.
- Tension- Stress and anxiety causes significant muscle tension leading to cramps.
- Idiopathic- For no known reason.
Getting relief from Muscle Cramps-
- First and foremost is to stop the activity that triggered the cramp. Use a heating pad or hot soak or use a warm wet wash cloth on the affected muscle.
- Stretching the affected muscle. For example, for calf muscle, with your leg straight, pull your foot towards you so that your toes point towards your shin. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat 10 times. You can also wiggle the affected extremity.
- Calcium and potassium supplements on the advice of your doctor only.
- Gently massage the affected muscle using your hands or foam rollers.
- People having severe and persistent muscle cramps must consult their doctor for proper medical attention.
Avoiding Muscle Cramps–
- Incorporating warm up stretches before exercise. Also don’t exercise right after eating. Adequate cool down is equally important.
- Maintaining good hydration levels is essential. Fluids are important to keep muscle cells hydrated.
- Eat your veggies and fruits to get good supply of minerals.
- Food helping with cramps are bananas, melons, oranges, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, avocados, lentils, many nuts and seeds.
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