Have you ever felt your muscle has contracted suddenly and involuntary causing severe pain? If you know what we are talking about you have suffered muscle cramps. But, what is it exactly, what causes it, and how we can treat it? Keep reading to know what to do and how to prevent this uncomfortable spasm!
What is a muscle cramp?
As we said, muscle cramps are involuntary contractions that happen in one or more of your muscles. They cause severe pain but generally are harmless. Most muscle cramps develop in the back of your lower leg, and the back or the front of your thigh. However, it is also possible to experience cramps in your arms, hands, feet, and abdominal wall.
This sudden, sharp pain lasts from a few seconds to 15 minutes and may be accompanied by a hard lump of muscle tissue beneath the skin. It is frequent to suffer muscle cramps while you are sleeping or when you are doing intense physical work.
What causes it?
Muscle cramps may have several causes. These are some of them: Overuse of your muscles, dehydration, not being in shape, lack of electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium, or magnesium in the diet or loss of those, holding a position for a prolonged period, high temperatures at the time of physical exercise, poor exercise technique, the insufficient blood supply to the muscles, nerve compression, and so on.
Although all these situations can lead to a muscle cramp, the most common one is an excessive effort while doing exercise. This explains why muscle cramps normally occur after a high-intensity exercise, such as sprinting, or prolonged and strenuous activity, such as a marathon.
Some conditions can contribute to suffering muscle cramps. Pregnancy, age, alcoholism, medical conditions like diabetes, kidney failure, or thyroid disorders are some of them.
How can we treat it?
If you feel muscle cramps while doing exercise you should stop immediately and start walking slowly if the pain allows you. After that, straight your muscle softly until the pain goes away and drink small sips of water or isotonic drinks. You also can massage your muscle to relieve the pain and use a hot or cold cloth, ice, or a heating pad on tense or tight muscles to help them relax.
Doctors can prescript some muscle relaxer if muscle cramps interrupt your sleep frequently and there is no known cause of why this happens to you.
Is there something I can do to prevent it?
To avoid injury, prevention is better than cure. That is why you should know these tips to prevent muscle cramps. The most important thing is to stay hydrated. When physically active you lose more water, so you have to make sure that you drink enough liquid when you exercise. Here you have a tip: you know you are hydrated when your urine is light yellow or clear.
Another important thing is to replace the electrolytes you lose when you sweat, especially if you are exercising in humid or hot climates. How could you do this? Eating products with sodium, calcium, potassium, or magnesium such as bananas, nuts, seeds, vegetables, or dairy products. You should also lower your intake of caffeine. In short, having a healthy diet, as always, is better for your whole body.
Stay in shape will help you to avoid muscle cramps, as well as a stretch or warm up before and after exercise. Besides, you should graduate the intensity and duration of the exercise to allow your body to adapt. If you tend to have leg cramps while you are sleeping light exercise like ride a stationary bike before bedtime may help prevent it.
However, if you suffer from muscle cramps often or it spreads to other parts of your body you should talk with your doctor or physiotherapist.