One of the most common complaints that riddles physicians involve painful muscle cramps and what to do about them. Likely you’ve gotten your fair share of them too, especially if you’re active and exercise regularly. Sometimes they’re just a vague, achy “charley horse” or tightness, and other times muscle cramps can be a deep, intense, shooting pain that jolts you awake in the middle of the night. If you’ve been bothered by muscle cramps, read this article about getting rid of and preventing them.
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
Muscle cramps can be brought on by inadequate stretching prior to exercise, but are most often brought on from overall dehydration. If you’re sweating a lot from exercise or outside of work and not drinking enough fluids to rehydrate yourself, you can lose a lot of electrolytes, namely the minerals sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and chloride. Certain drugs, like diuretics, can also cause you to lose a lot of fluid through excessive urination.
If you do not replace these lost electrolytes through food or electrolyte drinks, the deficiency can lead to bad muscle cramps that are usually in your legs, but sometimes also in your stomach and even your heart! Potassium, calcium, and magnesium are responsible for making muscle fibers fire when you move and relax when you’re inactive. Insufficiencies of these minerals can keep muscles from working properly and they begin to cramp.
How to Stop Muscle Cramps
The best way to stop muscle cramps is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. However, if you’ve ever experienced a bad cramp in the middle of the night, all you can think of is how fast you can stop it!
Here Are Several Fairly Quick Emergency Remedies That Should Get Rid of a Bad Muscle Cramp When It Occurs:
Get Up and Move Around
When you get a bad muscle cramp, your body almost propels you to get up and move, and that’s exactly what you should do. Making the muscle move increases blood circulation to it and helps “iron out” the painful kink in it. Pulling your toes back towards your knees often helps as well. Then, move quickly to the refrigerator where you can grab some potassium, calcium, and magnesium to help further iron out that cramp.
Muscle cramps usually respond fairly quickly to the intake of potassium. You must replace it daily especially if you are sweating a lot and/or live in a hot, humid or very cold and dry climate, to keep muscles (including your heart!) working correctly. Other signs of low potassium are heart palpitations and undue fatigue. Some good food sources are:
- Vegetable juice
- Orange juice
- Pickle juice
- Almond milk
Replace Calcium and Magnesium
Calcium and magnesium deficiencies also contribute to cramps. A large glass of milk or a cup of hot cocoa will help as they contain both calcium and magnesium.
Non-Emergent Prevention for Muscle Cramps
Here are some other things you can do on your own to relax and unwind your muscles after exercise or working outside in hot or very cold weather.
We can become dehydrated quickly especially in very cold, dry weather or very hot, humid weather or from exercise/sweating. It is recommended that men consume 13 cups of water/fluid a day and women 9 cups. If you drink caffeinated beverages, replace 1 extra cup of water for every cup of caffeinated drink. Drinks like Gatorade and other commercial electrolyte drinks help replace lost minerals as well.
Epsom Salts Bath
This old standby really works. Epsom salts contain magnesium which helps relax tense muscles and keep them from spasming and cramping. Fill a warm bath with about 1 cup of Epsom salts (Bought at your grocery store or pharmacy) and soak for at least 30 minutes after strenuous exercise.
Watch Your Food Intake
These foods are a great source of nutrients to avoid cramps:
- Potassium: Artichokes, potatoes, raisins, pinto beans, beet greens, white beans
- Calcium: Dairy, fish, green leafy vegetables
- Magnesium: Chocolate, spinach, legumes, halibut, almonds, soybeans, cashews
With a little more careful attention to your potassium, calcium, and magnesium and fluids intake, you should be able to prevent sleep-robbing, painful muscle cramps from occurring. However, for muscle pain/ramps that are not relieved by some of the above suggestions, please contact your doctor, or go to your nearest emergency room or urgent care as your pain may be symptoms of claudication, blood clot, muscle, ligament or tendon tear.
If you happen to have cramps in the workplace and these affect your work, give us a call!