What Causes Muscle Cramps?
Muscle cramps are involuntary contractions or spasms in your muscles. They may be caused by nerves that malfunction (such as from a pinched nerve or spinal cord injury) or a variety of other causes, including:
•Poor or improper blood circulation in your legs
•Overuse or excessive straining of muscles while exercising (particularly in the heat)
•Mineral deficiencies (particularly potassium, calcium or magnesium)
•As a side effect of medication (including diuretics, Alzheimer’s drugs, osteoporosis treatments, Parkinson’s drugs, asthma medications or statin cholesterol-lowering drugs
•Medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid, liver and nerve disorders increase the risk
While anyone can get muscle cramps, they’re more common during pregnancy, among athletes engaged in intense or prolonged exercise, and among the elderly (as muscle mass declines with age, your muscles become more easily fatigued and prone to cramping
uscle cramps typically come on without warning, often at night or just after exercise, and when they do, the pain can be excruciating. While generally harmless, if you get muscle cramps on a regular basis they’ll feel anything but.
Aside from the sudden, sharp pain, muscle cramps make it virtually impossible to use the affected muscle until the cramping stops, which can be dangerous if you’re swimming or in the middle of a strenuous activity that makes taking a break difficult (such as rock climbing).
Muscle cramps often occur in the calf muscles (which are called “charley horses”) but they can also occur in your feet, thighs, hands, arms, abdomen, or along the rib cage. Back muscle spasms or cramps are also common. The pain may last for only a few seconds or it may continue for 15 minutes or more. In some cases muscle cramps will recur multiple times before going away completely.
You’ve Got a Cramp! Now What?
If you feel a muscle cramp coming on, stop what you’re doing and start this effective four-step treatment immediately:
1. Stretch the cramped muscle
For a calf cramp, for instance, flex your foot and pull the top of your foot upward. For a front thigh cramp, bend your knee and pull your foot behind you, toward your buttocks.
2. Massage the muscle
Rubbing the cramped muscle will help it to relax.
3. Apply heat
If you’re near a shower, direct a stream of warm water onto the muscle. You can also use a heating pad, but avoid the typical electric heating pads, which give off electromagnetic fields (EMFs). EMFs may interfere with body functions and, research suggests, may be linked to cancer and a weakened immune system. Look for a heating pad that uses far-infrared rays (FIR), which lead to vibration effects at the molecular level to improve transportation of oxygen and nutrients, ultimately helping to support regeneration and healing. This is different than the type of heat given off by ordinary heating pads, which only penetrate your skin, not the deep layers of tissues underneath, where pain resides.
The thermal effect of deep heat on your tissues causes blood vessels in capillaries to dilate, which improves blood circulation and promotes pain-relief healing and wellness.
4. Apply cold
If the heat doesn’t work, and your muscle is still cramping, an ice pack may help to relieve the pain.