Have you ever been laying in bed and one of your muscles feels like it has instantly become a knotted ball and the immediate discomfort makes you want to scream, cry, or do both?
Almost everyone gets muscle cramps and they come without warning. Generally they are harmless, but muscle cramps can make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle. A muscle cramp is an involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscle that does not relax, in simple terms, muscle cramps are caused by muscle spasms that are forceful and sustained. Muscle cramps often cause a visible or palpable hardening of the involved muscle. Muscle cramps can last anywhere from a few seconds to a quarter of an hour or occasionally longer. It is not uncommon for a cramp to recur multiple times until it finally resolves. The cramp may involve a part of a muscle, the entire muscle, or several muscles that usually act together, such as those that flex adjacent fingers. Some cramps involve the simultaneous contraction of muscles that ordinarily move body parts in opposite directions.
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
Many things can trigger a muscle cramp. They include:
- Poor blood circulation in your legs
- Working calf muscles too hard while exercising
- Not stretching enough
- Being active in hot temperatures
- Muscle fatigue
- Magnesium and/or potassium deficiency
- A problem such as a spinal cord injury or pinched nerve in your neck or back
Muscle cramps can also occur as a side effect of some drugs/medications and or medical conditions.
Although most muscle cramps are harmless, some may be related to an underlying medical condition, such as:
- Inadequate blood supply. Narrowing of the arteries that deliver blood to your legs (arteriosclerosis of the extremities) can produce cramp-like pain in your legs and feet while you’re exercising. These cramps usually go away soon after you stop exercising.
- Nerve compression. Compression of nerves in your spine (lumbar stenosis) also can produce cramp-like pain in your legs. The pain usually worsens the longer you walk. Walking in a slightly flexed position — such as you would use when pushing a shopping cart ahead of you — may improve or delay the onset of your symptoms.
- Mineral depletion. Too little potassium, calcium or magnesium in your diet can contribute to leg cramps. Diuretics — medications often prescribed for high blood pressure — also can deplete these minerals.
Factors that might increase your risk of muscle cramps include:
- Age. Older people lose muscle mass, so the remaining muscle can get overstressed more easily.
- Dehydration. Athletes who become fatigued and dehydrated while participating in warm-weather sports frequently develop muscle cramps.
- Pregnancy. Muscle cramps also are common during pregnancy.
- Medical conditions. You might be at higher risk of muscle cramps if you have diabetes, or nerve, liver or thyroid disorders.
If you have a cramp, you can usually treat them at home with self-care measures.
To help stop cramps before they start:
- Stretch and massage. Stretch the cramped muscle and gently rub it to help it relax. For a calf cramp, put your weight on your cramped leg and bend your knee slightly. If you’re unable to stand, sit on the floor or in a chair with your affected leg extended.Try pulling the top of your foot on the affected side toward your head while your leg remains in a straightened position. This will also help ease a back thigh (hamstring) cramp. For a front thigh (quadriceps) cramp, use a chair to steady yourself and try pulling your foot on the affected side up toward your buttock.
- Apply heat or cold. Use a warm towel or heating pad on tense or tight muscles. Taking a warm bath with Epsom salt or directing the stream of a hot shower onto the cramped muscle also can help. Alternatively, massaging the cramped muscle with ice may relieve pain.
- Eat more foods high in vitamins and magnesium and calcium.
- Stay well-hydrated.
- Stretch properly before exercise
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