Muscle cramps are defined as an involuntary contraction of a muscle. These can last anywhere from a few seconds, all the way up to several minutes. The exact mechanism of how cramping occurs is not fully understood, but there are several factors that are known to play a role in muscle cramps. The most common are dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and mineral & nutrient deficiencies. Vigorous activity can also increase the likelihood of a muscle cramp when any of these factors are present, or if the body is not very well conditioned for the activity being performed.
For athletes, cramps are more common when starting physical preparation, but can also occur when there is already a highly evolved physical condition.
These contractions are also very common when you reach a certain age (from 40/50) and occur due to several factors, of which the most common are electrolyte disturbances (which are largely due to renal insufficiency and deficiency of some minerals such as magnesium, calcium and potassium); dehydration (also because of low levels of magnesium and calcium); exposure to different temperatures; low oxygen and intense physical exercise.
Low levels of other electrolytes (such as potassium, magnesium, or calcium) in the blood can also cause cramps. Low electrolyte levels may result from use of some diuretics, alcoholism, certain endocrine disorders, vitamin D deficiency, or conditions that cause loss of fluids (and thus electrolytes). Electrolyte levels may also become low late in pregnancy. You can search and buy electrolyte supplements online, and choose one that fits your current activities best.
Nocturnal leg cramps are involuntary muscle contractions that occur in the calves, soles of the feet, or other muscles in the body during the night or (less commonly) while resting.The duration of nocturnal leg cramps is variable with cramps lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. Muscle soreness may remain after the cramp itself ends. These cramps are more common in older people. They happen quite frequently in teenagers and in some people while exercising at night.
Tips To Avoid Cramps:
- Gently Stretch The Muscles Before Exercising Or Going To Bed: This increases blood circulation to provide faster recovery from cramps.
- Stay Hydrated: As we said, dehydration can cause cramps. An easy way to identify whether you are hydrated is to check the color of your urine (dark urine suggests that you are dehydrated). Drinking water or consuming a sports drink before and during exercise is fundamental for maintaining hydration.
- Replace Electrolytes After Exercise: Electrolytes should be replenished through the ingestion of food or supplements. Amino acids and BCAA’s are two of the most important supplements to help you recover from cramps.
- Eat Healthy Food: A good diet will reduce the likelihood of having cramps. If you find it difficult to maintain a balanced and varied diet, consuming vitamins and minerals may be a good choice. This will provide you with a range of nutrients such as magnesium and potassium that help to prevent cramps.
- Wear Appropriate Attire: Wearing the proper clothing and especially the proper footwear can significantly reduce your risk of cramps. This is especially important for runners and investing in a good pair of running shoes will help you avoid muscle cramps in your legs and feet.
If a cramp occurs, try the following treatments below to soothe the affected muscles:
- Stretching: Stretching the affected muscles is a great way to relieve muscles cramps. For example, for a calf cramp, you can use one of your hands to pull the foot and toes upward or alternatively, you could do the runner’s stretch.
- Massage: When a muscle is cramping, circulation may be restricted to that area. Vigorously massaging and kneading the affected muscle will help to boost circulation to the area.
- Heat Balm: Heat balms are another great way to increase the flow of blood to cramped muscles.
- Doctor: If your cramps are frequent, severe and don’t subside after attempting the suggested treatments above, you should see your doctor. You could have problems with your circulation, hormones, nerves or metabolism which are causing the cramps. The cramps could also be caused by medications you’re taking or your current diet. Your doctor will be able to perform a thorough assessment and identify the underlying cause of your cramps.