Cramps are involuntary contractions or spasms that occur in one or more muscles. They’re fairly common and they usually happen after you’ve done some exercise. Muscle cramps, particularly leg cramps, affect certain people at night. They can be excruciatingly painful and last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.
The contracted muscle is usually felt as a hard lump at the location of the pain. After the cramp has passed, your muscles in that area may ache for hours. Cramping can occur in any muscle, although it is most common in the thighs, calves, feet, toes, hands, back, arms, abdomen and rib cage.
Straining or overusing a muscle, a pinched nerve in the neck or back, stress, sitting incorrectly for extended periods of time, dehydration, menstruation and low levels of electrolytes (such as magnesium, potassium, or calcium) are the most common causes of muscle cramps. Here are a few tips on how to avoid getting them and how to treat them when they occur.
How to prevent muscle cramps
Drink a lot of water and reduce the amount of alcohol and caffeine that you consume. Sports drinks can help you replace electrolytes if you engage in strenuous exercise. Stretch your muscles, especially before exercising and before bed, if you frequently have cramps at night.
Working toward improved general fitness and performing flexibility exercises before and after workouts will help to keep cramps at bay, but progress should be gradual. To avoid muscle weariness and cramps, slowly increase the type and intensity of your exercises.
You may also need to change your sleeping positions. If you sleep on your back, use pillows to keep your toes pointed upward. Try hanging your feet over the end of the bed if you’re lying on your back. Both positions can help to keep your leg muscles relaxed.
Potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium are all vital nutrients to avoid muscle cramps and they can be found in the foods listed below:
- Sweet potatoes
- Beans and lentils
- Pickle juice
- Dark, leafy greens
- Orange juice
- Nuts and seeds
- Oily fish like salmon, sardines and trout
Leg cramps are unlikely to be relieved by taking vitamins. Some doctors, however, advise that you take a vitamin B12 complex or magnesium supplement.
Treating muscle cramps
As painful as it is, stretching or gently massaging the cramp will release the contracted muscle. Applying heat when the muscle is tight also helps to relieve pain. Speak to your doctor about taking painkillers if you frequently experience muscle cramps or if they affect your sleep.
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