When we use our muscles, they contract and relax alternately. This also applies to our muscle groups that maintain posture; these muscles will constrict and relax in a synchronized manner. When any of our muscles contract without conscious desire to use that group, it is called a muscle spasm. If such a spasm occurs with force and is sustained, it then turns into a cramp. Muscle cramps, unlike spasms, do not subside after a very brief time frame. These cramps cause a hardening of the muscles involved and are usually visible or palpable.
Definition of Muscle Cramps
Muscle cramps are involuntary, sudden contractions of various muscles. They are often painful and may affect any muscle group. Most commonly affected muscles are the calves, hamstrings and quadriceps. Muscle cramps can also happen in the abdomen, feet, hands or arms.
Now that we know what a muscle cramp is, let’s look at some causes for muscle cramps as well as some ways to treat them on your own.
Causes of Muscle Cramps
There are multiple reasons for muscle cramps begin. Overuse of a muscle group is one of the most common reasons. Injured muscle may also trigger muscle cramps. If you are not replenishing fluids adequately, this will cause dehydration, which is another cause for muscle cramps. Furthermore, low levels of potassium or calcium will also lead to muscle cramps, as both minerals assist in healthy muscle function.
Poor circulation in your legs or feet may also cause muscle cramps in those areas when you walk, or participate in physical activity and exercise.
There are several medical conditions that may lead to muscle cramps more frequently, they include but are not limited to compression of the spinal nerve, hypothyroidism (thyroid gland is functioning at a low level), pregnancy, alcoholism and kidney failure. Yet there are times that the reason for the muscle cramp is just not known.
Home Care for Muscle Cramps
If you are suffering a muscle cramp, immediately stop what you are doing and then try massaging or stretching the muscle out. If a heating source that not cause a burn, it will help relax the muscle when a muscle cramp just begins. But if the pain increases, ice will be more helpful.
If soreness persists, an anti-inflammatory over the counter medication will help. If the muscle cramps are severe, you should consult you medical professional for a prescription.
Water will often help ease muscle cramps because the number one cause of muscle cramps during activity is the lack of proper hydration.If this may not be enough, sports drinks with electrolytes or even salt tablets may be needed for proper re-hydration and mineral replacement.
Additional ways to relieve muscle cramps include changing your work out so that you are exercising within our ability level,drinking plenty of fluids while active or exercising, as well as increasing you potassium intake like eating a banana or drinking orange juice. Make sure you warm up with a stretching routine before you start doing any activities; this will prepare the muscles for them and may eliminate the chance of muscle cramps.
When to See a Doctor
Muscle cramps rarely are serious enough to require medical attention and often go away on their own. However, you should see a medical professional if muscle cramps:
- Cause severe pain
- Cause redness, skin changes or swelling in the legs
- Are followed with muscle weakness
- Occur frequently
- Begin with no reasonable cause such as strenuous activity
- Self-care does not cause any improvement
Preventing Muscle Cramps
1. Replenish Fluids As Needed
Drink plenty of fluids daily. The exact amount will depend on many factors. Your gender, your dietary habits, the weather, the medications you're taking and the level of the activity will together determine how much fluids you should drink. Muscles need fluids to contract and relax properly, the better hydrated you are; the less likely you are to suffer muscle cramps. Make sure to replenish fluids during, after and always at regular intervals of activities.
2. Take Stretch Exercises
Stretch out your muscles before and after preforming any strenuous activity. If you do get leg cramps during your sleep time, consider using a stationary bicycle or light exercise and a through stretch before retiring for the night. This may help reduce those middle night muscle cramps.
In short, remember that most muscle cramps are due to dehydration and overuse or over stress of your muscles. Drink plenty of fluids and always stretch before and after strenuous activities.