Muscle cramping of any kind certainly isn’t any fun. Whether you are a professional athlete in training or you are pregnant, have your menstrual cycle, or you’ve started working out again, knowing how to deal with and prevent cramp is important to overall good health.
Your dietary habits, the supplements you are taking, perhaps even your fluid intake, could all be factors contributing to muscle cramping.
Cramping is defined a painful involuntary spasmodic muscle contraction; a short-term paralysis of muscles from too much use. (1) There are a variety of different types of cramps which can be diagnosed depending on the condition surrounding the cramping.
If you are a writer and get a cramp it could be something different to when you were running on a hot summer day.
The Science Of Cramping
Muscle cramping is common in both athletes and non-athletes. An involuntary skeletal muscle contraction, where cramps are categorised as athletic or not. The former group ethology could be hormonal, an imbalance in electrolytes or the cause may be long-term medication.
If cramping is a persistent issue then medical tests may be required.
The most common form of muscle cramping is exercise related, where the cramp affects the leg muscles during or shortly after exercises; lasting a few seconds to a few minutes. Other muscles that cramp are the foot, calf, hands, abdomen, arms, and various muscles along rib cagecage.
Common Symptoms Of Cramping
The majority of cramps develop in the leg muscles, particularly the calf muscle. Aside from the sudden sharp pain, you may also experience the feeling of hard muscle tissue beneath the skin.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention?
- Extreme severe discomfort
- Around the area affected you see redness, swelling, or unusual skin changes
- You experience muscle weakness with the muscle cramping
- Your cramping happens frequently
- The cramping doesn’t disappear with treatment and time
- There is no obvious reason why you are cramping and the pain is severe
Suspected Causes Of Cramping
Possible causes of cramping include…(2)
- ineffective stretching of the muscle before use
- tired muscles
- using a muscle too much
- poor circulation of blood
- deficiency in magnesium/potassium and other vitamins and minerals
- nervous system issues
- Inadequate blood supply - A narrowing of the arteries that carry blood to your legs and other extremities may trigger cramp pain in your feet, legs and calves when exercising. Most of these symptoms disappear when you’re finished exercising; within a few seconds to a few minutes in most cases.
- Nerve compression - When your nerves are compressed in your spin (lumbar stenosis), cramps may develop. Pain normally intensifies the longer you walk. You may find relief if you walk in a slightly flexed position, like you would pushing a shopping cart.
- Mineral depletion - Not enough calcium, magnesium, or potassium in your diet may also trigger cramping pain. Ensuring you eat enough of these minerals will help prevent muscle cramping.
- Studies show low levels of sodium may also contribute to muscle cramps. Sodium often becomes depleted with rigorous exercise and if your body isn’t replacing the sodium as quickly as you are sweating it out, cramps may develop. Athletes often have this issue to deal with. Professional athletes make a point of ensuring they get plenty of salt in their diet, more than the average person would.
Medications may also cause intense muscle cramps, some of which are: (3)
- Nifedipine - high blood pressure/angina
- Furosemide - used to expel water from the body
- Donepezil - treatment of Alzheimer’s
- Neostigmine - treatment of myasthenia gravis
- Albuterol - asthma medications
- Raloxifene - treatment of bone disease, osteoporosis
- Tolcapone - treatment of Parkinson’s disease
- Lipitor - cholesterol issues
Dietary Changes To Prevent Cramping
Healing Foods For Muscle Cramps
When you increase your daily intake of food that contain potassium, a mineral that proves to help your body break down complex carbohydrates and build muscle. This can be taken naturally in foods or in a vitamin supplement.
- dried fruit
- tomato juice
- orange or grapefruit juice
Foods To Avoid
*Caffeine - Found in tea, chocolate, coffee, sodas. Caffeine causes constriction of your blood vessels, decreasing blood flow and causing cramping. Solution - Switch to herbal tea, decaf coffee or water.
Supplements Studies Show Decrease Muscle Cramping
- Potassium - This electrolyte helps conduct muscle messages. Lack of K in your diet may trigger cramping. 2,000 mg of potassium per day is recommended.
- Calcium - Low levels of calcium excite the nerve endings and triggers muscle stimulation. Studies show this may be a causal factor in cramping. 1,000 mg per day is recommended for adults.
- Magnesium - This electrolyte also aids in muscle function and it helps with potassium absorption. 400 mg two to three times each day is recommended.
- Zinc - Zinc needed for proper growth and maintenance of the body. 8 milligrams per day for adults is recommended.
- Vitamin D - If you aren’t getting enough of his vitamin your body won’t be able to absorb the calcium you need to prevent muscle cramping. Some studies show up to 100 micrograms per day is needed.(4)
- Preliminary studies suggest magnesium may help decrease cramping pain associated with menstruation. (5) Research continues to uncover the effectiveness of health supplements on the prevention of muscle cramping.
Eating a well-balanced diet is your most effective route to preventing muscle cramping, along with ensuring you drink enough water each day to avoid dehydration. Your body is made up of more than 60% water so it makes sense to drink at least 6-8 glasses per day, more if you live in a warm climate or are exercising.
Including healthy vitamin and minerals supplements will also decrease the chances of muscle cramping developing.
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