What are MUSCLE CRAMPS? How to Prevent & Correct them?
Updated: Oct 26, 2021
Muscle cramps after workouts or during sleep are very common and temporarily make the contracted muscle unusable. Muscle cramps, if not corrected, may intensify. Although most muscle cramps are harmless, some may be very painful and a potential condition symptom like a nerve problem. So, let us understand what muscle cramps are and why do they occur. Also, how do we prevent or correct a muscle cramp? Read on to find out the Science of Muscle Cramps.
What are MUSCLE CRAMPS?
Most of us have suffered from muscle cramps at least once in our lives. Muscle cramps have at least temporarily paused our activity, whether it was while in a deep sleep or whether it was when working out. Most muscle cramps last temporarily (disappearing on their own) and are harmless, while some indicate an underlying medical condition. Involuntary muscle contraction causes shooting pain and makes the contracted muscle unusable.
Most muscle cramps are observed in the Calf and the Quadriceps.
The severity and occurrence of muscle cramps increase with age. Underlying conditions like thyroid problems, liver trouble, diabetes etc., worsen muscle cramps. It is incredibly likely to get muscle cramps during pregnancy.
What CAUSES Muscle Cramps?
Muscle cramps can be caused due to a variety of reasons. Some of the widespread reasons include:
Holding a position for too long.
Muscle overuse or strenuous exercise.
Compression of nerves.
Incorrect or too little stretching.
Little or no flexibility in the muscle.
Electrolyte depletion or imbalance.
Little or no use of muscle.
How to PREVENT Muscle Cramps?
Preventing muscle cramps is always wiser than curing them. Here are some ways we can prevent muscle cramps:
Stretching muscles before going to bed and after a workout: Stretching relaxes the muscles and helps maintain flexibility. The more flexible a muscle is, the lesser susceptible it is to cramp. Hence, it is vital to stretch the entire body to prevent muscles from cramping.
Staying hydrated throughout the day, especially when water loss is at its highest, for example, during workouts in a hot & humid climate, our body loses electrolytes while sweating. Lost electrolytes need to be replenished to maintain the electrolyte balance. We can keep sipping water to refill our water stores, prepare a mixture of electrolyte + water, use readymade energy drinks, amino acids supplements etc. Mineral micronutrients like sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium help in muscle relaxation and contraction. These minerals can be rapidly lost from the body due to sweating, diarrhoea, dehydration, or excessive urination. Dietary deficiency or depletion of these minerals prevent muscles from relaxing, leading to muscle cramps. Medicines that induce such conditions (as an effect or a side effect) may also cause muscle cramps. Hence, hydration care should be taken when taking such medicines.
Increasing vitamin B intake either through food or by taking a potent vitamin B supplement can help in preventing muscle cramps. Vitamin B helps to preserve muscle and nerve function, thereby reducing or preventing cramps. The richest sources of vitamin B are eggs, green leafy vegetables, meat, and dairy products.
These are the easiest ways of preventing muscle cramps.
How to CORRECT Muscle Cramps?
A muscle cramp can be stopped if we stretch the muscle. The following measures can be undertaken when a twinge is in progress. It will help minimise the pain and accelerate recovery from the cramp.
Massage the cramped muscle.
If possible, use a warm compress or a cold compress on the affected muscle.
If the cramp is in the leg, try standing and walking.
For calf cramps, stand about two to three feet from a wall. While keeping the heels in contact with the floor, the back arched and knees straight, lean toward the wall until you can place the forearms against the wall. If one cannot get out of the bed, pull the toes upward toward the head to flex the ankle. Do not bend the knees, and try keeping your back arched.
If the forearm muscles are cramped, pull the fingers backwards without bending the elbow.
Most muscle cramps last temporarily and are harmless.
It is highly likely to get muscle cramps during pregnancy.
Most muscle cramps are observed in the calf and the quadriceps.
A variety of reasons like dehydration, micronutrient depletion, compression of nerves etc., can cause muscle cramps.
Muscle cramps can stop if we stretch the muscle.
Now we understand what muscle cramps are, why they occur, and how to prevent or correct them.