Almost everyone has had a muscle cramp; you may call it a muscle spasm or even a charley horse. It’s an excruciating contraction of your muscles that comes on suddenly and may last for a few seconds up to 15 minutes when the muscle can’t relax.
The unfortunate thing is that when you get one muscle cramp, more may be coming. It’s most common to get muscle cramps in your calve or other parts of your leg, like your foot or thigh.
You can also get muscle cramps in other areas of your body, including your arms and hands, and even your abdomen.
How Common Are Muscle Cramps?
Muscle cramps are very common, and it’s estimated that 60% of adults get them, but most people don’t report their muscle cramps to anybody, except perhaps to complain that it happened. So stats are often related to people that have underlying conditions, the elderly, or high-performance athletes.
We know that muscle cramps are a little more common for women; children have a far less chance of getting them, and as we age, our chances of getting them increase.
When you look at the available stats, you can get a little concerned that you have some kind of terrible disease or issue. However, that’s likely not the case unless there are other factors that you should take into consideration.
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
There are so many things that can cause muscle cramps that it’s often not always possible to know why you’re getting a muscle cramp. However, there are some specific issues that you can look at to see if they correlate to your muscle cramping and then look for ways to address the issue.
Nocturnal Muscle Cramps are linked to vascular disease, lumbar canal stenosis, cirrhosis, hemodialysis, pregnancy, and other medical conditions.
Several other health issues can cause muscle cramps in general due to nerve damage and other factors from the health condition. Diabetes and nerve compression caused by injury or age can be significant factors in getting muscle cramps regularly.
Liver and thyroid disorders are also risk factors for getting muscle cramps, which you can’t do much about.
Several medications are also linked to muscle cramps; these include intravenous iron sucrose, conjugated estrogens, raloxifene, naproxen, and teriparatide. However, there may be many more, so consider what new medications you started when muscle cramps became an issue for you.
Some of your supplements may also be causing muscle cramps. For example, if you take a lot of caffeine or another diuretic, then this causes dehydration and mineral loss.
You may even be trying to be healthy by supplementing with certain minerals; however, if you’re overloading your body with one mineral but lacking another, this can put you out of alignment and cause muscle cramps as well.
A significant risk factor in getting muscle cramps is not warming up or stretching before doing any kind of exercise or strenuous activity. It’s thought that most people who get muscle cramps have strained muscles in their legs or other muscle groups.
This doesn’t mean only people that go to the gym or exercise will have this issue. For example, if you’re going for a long walk, or you suddenly have to run somewhere, that’s also where you can strain your muscles.
By not warming up or stretching before any kind of strenuous activity, you overload the muscles too quickly for them to handle it, which results in stressing the muscle and making it susceptible to cramping and other injuries.
Your other issue may be if you’re overusing a muscle and lactic acid builds up, which will cause cramping as well.
Age-Related Muscle Strain
As you age, you may be losing some muscle mass and becoming more sedentary. Due to both of these, you put yourself at increased risk of muscle strain and muscle cramps.
Your muscles are being used less and not able to take as much strain as before. However, this is something that you can fix to some degree.
Dehydration caused by heat, exercise, or other strenuous activity can cause muscle cramps. This is due to excessive sweat where electrolytes are lost, and you haven’t replaced them, your nerves get sensitive and cause your muscles to contract.
Unfortunately, just drinking water won’t replace the electrolytes that you’ve lost, and you need to eat to get those electrolytes back. Otherwise, you’ll need to supplement through vitamins and minerals.
If your body runs out of electrolytes and other minerals, it can cause your muscles to cramp. This type of issue can be caused by exercise, a hot environment, or even a poor diet.
The problem is that your body needs to be balanced with all the right vitamins and minerals. When you quickly remove all or some of your body’s vitamins and minerals, it goes out of a healthy balance, and some minerals are causing problems such as cramps when everything is out of balance.
Simply drinking water while you exercise or move about your day isn’t going to replenish any of your minerals and may actually dilute them further or cause you to pee even more out.
How Do You Prevent Muscle Cramps?
If an underlying medical condition causes your muscle cramps, you may not be able to do anything about them; you should discuss them with your doctor to see what they recommend. However, your doctor may recommend some of the things listed below, especially supplementing with vitamins and minerals.
If you believe your muscle cramps are associated with heavy exercise or working in the heat, then there are many things you can do so that muscle cramps don’t interfere with your life.
If you’re unsure what is causing your muscle cramps and can’t even guess, you can try working through each of the items listed below. However, don’t try to do every single item in the hopes it magically fixes your cramping because then you won’t know which issue was resolved or what your problem was.
- Limit how strenuous you exercise. This certainly doesn’t mean lowering your intensity or stopping working out; just consider if you’re doing too much on a specific body part and need to limit your sets or reps.
- Make sure you’re stretching and warming up before exercise. Not doing so can cause muscle strain.
- Don’t exercise right after you eat. Remember being told not to swim 2 hours after eating? That’s so you don’t cramp up and drown.
- Limit how much caffeine you are ingesting; this is likely only a factor for you if you take caffeine pills or drink energy drinks. Eating too much chocolate or even having a coffee each day isn’t a significant issue.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid getting dehydrated; this is especially important when you’re sweating a lot or in hot environments. Overall, drinking more water will help, but review the item below for electrolytes.
- Start supplementing with electrolytes, which are potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium. Excessive sweating can cause you to lose the electrolytes you need, which can cause cramping.
- Add more foods to your diet that contain calcium and potassium; if these minerals are low due to sweating, you can get muscle cramps.
- Start supplementing with Vitamin B12, which has been shown to decrease the likelihood of muscle cramps.
How Do You Get Rid Of Muscle Cramps?
Unfortunately, the best way to get rid of muscle cramps is to prevent them from happening in the first place. If your body is already at the point it’s cramping, then immediate fixes won’t stop it.
However, you can lessen the symptoms or start implementing changes, so the muscle cramps go away sooner:
- Massage the area that is cramping. There shouldn’t be any actual pain from massaging the muscle, even when it’s cramping. You can try to work out the cramped muscle and stretch the muscle so it can relax, which is the issue right then.
- Try fast-acting spray, or apply warm compresses to the area when it’s cramping; this can help relax the muscle and let it release, so the cramping stops.
- Apply a heating Pad for Back Pain and Cramps Relief https://amzn.to/3nWbzKV that can ease the symptoms in a couple of seconds by effectively directing a stream of heat towards the place that hurts.
- Magnesium tablets are effective for fast relief of muscles spasms, and especially nocturnal muscles cramps in older adults.
- Force stretching the cramp is an effective way to stop it from getting worse and shock it out of its cramp. By this, I mean, if your cramp is making your foot fold in on its self, then you need to push through the pain and stretch your foot as hard as you can so that it doesn’t fold in.
Doing this will stop the muscle from crunching in on itself, which is part of the pain you’re experiencing. It’s always an excellent way to shock the muscle and force relaxation.
- Drink some water and get some electrolytes into your system, this may not fix the immediate issue, but it’s worth doing once the first cramp finishes or even during the cramping if you’re able to so that your cramping doesn’t last all night.
If you don’t have any specific electrolytes or pills to take, just drink some water with salt. Eat a banana or drink some orange juice if you can.