BY DR. ANDREA PURCELL
Most of us have probably experienced a muscle cramp. There is a gripping sensation coming from a part of our body and we immediately reach down and start to massage it.
Muscle cramps can be extremely painful and often hit in waves. They can re-occur nightly or with certain movements and can last seconds to several minutes.
This time of year, muscle cramps become more common due to a number of reasons. Let’s take a closer look at what they are and the common causes behind them.
What are muscle cramps?
Muscle cramps are sudden contractions or spasms in one or more of your muscles. You can have a cramp in any muscle, with arms and legs being the most common.
What causes muscle cramps?
Overuse of a muscle, dehydration, muscle strain or simply holding a position for a prolonged period can cause a muscle cramp. In many cases, however, the cause isn’t known. Although most muscle cramps are harmless, some may be related to an underlying medical condition, such as: Inadequate blood supply, nerve compression, mineral depletion. Risk factors for developing muscle cramps are age, dehydration, and pregnancy.
Muscle cramps can occur after exercise. Exercising without properly warming up the muscles can lead to cramps.
Cramps also occur when a muscle is not able to relax properly (such as from a deficiency of magnesium or potassium in your diet)
Muscles can also become irritated by a buildup of lactic acid. Lactic acid buildup generally is an issue with over exercising or not resting between workouts.
Dehydration can worsen both of these problems. Older adults often don’t drink enough water at night because they want to avoid having to go the bathroom, and they end up dehydrated.
Avoiding Muscle Cramps
Short term fix>
*Stretch and massage… Stretch before and after you use any muscle for an extended period. Stretch the cramped muscle and gently rub it to help it relax.
*If you tend to have leg cramps at night, stretch before bedtime. Light exercise, such as riding a stationary bicycle for a few minutes before bedtime, also may help prevent cramps while you’re sleeping.
*Wear socks to bed at night to prevent muscles from becoming overly cool.
*Apply heat. Use a warm towel or heating pad on tense or tight muscles.
Long term fix>
*Certain vitamins and minerals impact muscle function, particularly potassium and magnesium. There is quite a bit of research that increasing magnesium intake can help with the frequency of night time leg cramps. It also helps with cramps during pregnancy.
*Mineral depletion. Too little potassium, calcium or magnesium in your diet can contribute to leg cramps. Diuretics, a group of medications often prescribed for high blood pressure, can deplete these minerals.
*Foods rich in magnesium are leafy greens, quinoa, nuts and beans. Foods rich in potassium are all potatoes, watermelon, squash, banana, avocado, coconut water, black beans, figs, and dates.
*Avoid dehydration… It is important to stay hydrated throughout the day. Drink plenty of liquids every day. Fluids help your muscles contract and relax and keep muscle cells hydrated and less irritable. During outdoor activities, replenish fluids at regular intervals, and continue drinking water or other fluids after you’re finished.
The Scoop On Water
Water isn’t enough to hydrate you.
The average person should be drinking about 2 liters of clean, filtered water each day.
Be aware that if you drink over a gallon of water you can dilute your fluids so much that you lose essential mineral salts required for life.
Water is an important piece of hydration but it is not the only piece.
Try this hydration drink recipe:
Fresh Lemon or Limeade
Juice of 5 whole limes/lemons
3 tablespoons of sugar or maple syrup
¼ tsp of sea salt
6 cups of water
Stir and add more sugar to taste If needed. Pour into 2-quart pitcher and serve