A muscle cramp is a strong, painful contraction or tightening of a muscle that comes on suddenly and lasts from a few seconds to several minutes. It often occurs in the legs. A muscle cramp is also called a charley horse. If you’ve ever been awakened in the night or stopped in your tracks by a sudden charley horse, you know that muscle cramps can cause severe pain. Though generally harmless, muscle cramps can make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle. Dehydration is a common cause of muscle cramps.
Causes of Muscle Cramps:
The exact cause of muscle cramp is not known, but risk factors may include:
- Dehydration – caused by, for example, a bout of gastroenteritis
- Tight, inflexible muscles
- Poor physical condition
- Poor muscle tone
- Inadequate diet
- Physical overexertion
- Physical exertion of cold muscles
- Muscle injury
- Muscle fatigue
- Excessive perspiration
- Reduced blood supply (ischaemia)
- Wearing high-heeled shoes for lengthy periods.
Sometimes a medical condition can trigger cramps including:
- Spinal nerve compression
- Kidney failure
- Hypothyroidism (low thyroid gland function)
- Certain medicines
- Abnormalities of the metabolism
Prevention of Muscle Cramps:
- Avoid dehydration: Drink plenty of liquids every day. The amount depends on what you eat, your sex, your level of activity, the weather, your health, your age and medications you take. Fluids help your muscles contract and relax and keep muscle cells hydrated and less irritable. During activity, replenish fluids at regular intervals, and continue drinking water or other fluids after you’re finished.
- Limit or avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine.
- Make sure you are eating healthy foods (especially if you are pregnant) that are rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
- Warm up and cool down thoroughly whenever you exercise or play sport.
- Don’t suddenly increase activity or the amount of exercise:
Increase an activity over time and make sure to properly warm up before beginning exercises. Also, an athlete should gradually start an activity they have never tried before or haven’t done in quite some time. We recommend slowly getting back into the activity over a few weeks’ time. Give yourself time and increase the workout intensity gradually. Your body first needs to get used to the new training sessions.
- Talk to your doc: Sometimes a muscle spasm should be checked out by a medical professional. If you experience severe pain or weakness, or it doesn’t stop and spreads to other parts of your body, call your health care provider.
- Stretch your muscles:Stretch before and after you use any muscle for an extended period. If you tend to have leg cramps at night, stretch before bedtime. Light exercise, such as riding a stationary bicycle for a few minutes before bedtime, also may help prevent cramps while you’re sleeping.