Muscle cramps in the legs or back are fairly common, particularly as we grow older. Almost everyone has experienced muscle cramps some or other time in their life. Muscle Cramps are of various types and can have different causes, symptoms.
What is Muscle Cramp
A muscle cramp is a sudden, and involuntary muscle contraction or over-shortening. Muscle cramps are generally temporary, however at times it could be really painful and may leave you immobile for sometime (which could be even days). The onset of muscle cramps is generally sudden, however it may resolve on its own over a period of a few seconds to several days.
Muscle cramps are primarily of two types:
- Skeletal Muscle Cramps: The primary cause of skeletal muscle cramps could be muscle fatigue and lack of electrolytes (e.g., low sodium, low potassium, or low magnesium). Skeletal cramps occurs in muscle with voluntary control such as legs, feet and calf.
- Smooth Muscle Cramps: The primary cause of smooth muscle cramp would be due to menstruation or gastroenteritis. Smooth Muscle Cramps occur in muscle under involuntary control such as uterus, blood vessel wall, bowels, bile and urinary passages or bronchial trees (lungs).
Causes of Muscle Cramps
Muscles of our body contract and relax as we move our limbs in a coordinated manner. We may or may not control them voluntarily. When a muscle involuntarily (without you consciously desiring it) contracts, it is in a “spasm.” A forceful and sustained spasm results in a cramp.
A muscle cramp may recur multiple times before it resolves. A muscle cramp may involve a part of a muscle, the entire muscle, or several muscles that usually acts together. The focus of this article is Skeletal Muscle Cramps or voluntary muscle cramps i.e cramps of the legs, feet and calf.
How to resolve recurring muscle cramps?
Possible cause 1: Muscle cramps from dehydration
One of the most common causes of muscle cramps is dehydration. The solution is really really simple and inexpensive. If you are experiencing muscle cramps frequently, just drink more water. This is the primary reason why players continuously drink water during every break. Therefore if you work out, drink at least two glasses of water upto 2 hours before you go for workout.
You can also think of adding natural salt (not commercial salt which is 100% Sodium Chloride) to the water to stay hydrated.
Natural salt like celtic salt or himalayan rock salt have 85+ essential trace minerals, besides sodium chloride, that are essential for your body. These trace minerals are missing from the regular table salt (Tata salt, Annapurna salt, catch salt . . . and the list goes on). Commercial table salt is 100% sodium chloride, that’s why it gives you blood pressure. And that’s why the doctor asks you to eat less of it.
I recommend that you switch to natural sea salt or himalayan rock salt.
Cause 2: Deficiency of Electrolytes such as Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium and Sodium
Deficiency of minerals such as Magnesium, Calcium, Potassium and Sodium imbalance (too much of it usually) could lead to muscle cramps. Low blood levels of calcium or magnesium increase the excitability of both the nerve endings and the muscles they stimulate. Such cramps are quite common among elderly and pregnant women.
It would be a good idea to test for these elements and supplement these if low.
For those people, whom blood tests are unaffordable or scary, magnesium in present in most fresh green leafy vegetables, bananas & cucumbers with skin for potassium, while yogurt and meat cooked on bone are good sources of calcium, protein and good fats.
Cause 3: Blood Pressure medications
Blood pressure medication (diuretics) for high blood pressure deplets your body levels of potassium due to increased urination resulting into hypokalemia. Hypokalemia causes fatigue, muscle weakness and muscle cramps.
So if you are on blood pressure medication it may make sense to supplement potassium or switch to natural salt. Food sources rich in potassium are
- White Beans — 1 cup cooked: 1,004 milligrams
- Lima Beans — 1 cup cooked: 955 milligrams
- Avocado — 1 whole: 690 milligrams
- Broccoli — 1 cup cooked: 458 milligrams
- Sweet Potato — 1 medium: 438 milligrams
- Bananas — 1 medium: 422 milligrams
- Salmon — 3 ounces: 416 milligrams
- Peas — 1 cup cooked: 384 milligrams
- Sardines — 1 can/3.75 grams: 365 milligrams
- Grapefruit — 1 whole: 354 milligrams
- Raw Milk — 1 cup: 260 milligrams
Cause 4: Injury
After an injury a persistent muscle spasm may occur as a protective mechanism. Such a muscle spasm tends to minimize movement and stabilize the area of injury.
Cause 5: Strenuous activity
After a strenuous activity with heavy usage of muscle may cause its fatigue and cramps. Individuals above 45 years of age are at major risk for such cramps. During strenuous activities causes loss of excessive fluid through perspiration.
Please follow the same tips as explained above to stay hydrated
Cause 6: Repetitive activity
During a repetitive activity for long hours such as driving for long hours, typing, sitting idle in an awkward position for long hours may cause muscle cramps. Such a Muscle cramp occur due to muscle fatigue.
Cause 7: Nocturnal Cramps
The cause of Nocturnal Cramps (Cramps which occur during resting or sleeping time) or rest cramps are not known conclusively. Such cramps happen due to movements that shortens the muscle (for example sleeping with toes pointing downwards while lying in the bed, which shortens the calf muscle).
I would recommend supplementing with a potent multivitamin for a month and switching to natural salt for minerals.
Cause 8: Deficiency of B Vitamins
Vitamin B are very important for normal functioning of body. Deficiency of B Vitamins particularly thiamine (B1), pantothenic acid (B5), and pyridoxine (B6) directly or indirectly leads to muscle cramps.
Again I would recommend supplementing with a potent multivitamin for a month and switching to natural salt for minerals.
Symptoms of Muscle Cramps
The primary symptoms of Muscle Cramps are:
- Soreness and swelling of Muscle
- Restricted activity of the muscle with a cramp for undefined period of time
- Muscle tenderness
Finally summarizing all possible remedies of Muscle Cramps
To ensure that you do not fall susceptible to it, you can do the following:
- Stay well hydrated
- During warm days ensure that you take sufficient amount of salts in the water
- Eat fruits and vegetables rich in Potassium, B Vitamins and Magnesium
- Ensure you have Vitamin D sufficiency
- Eat more foods high in vitamins and magnesium and calcium.
- Stretch properly before exercise.
- Supplement yourself with a Good Quality Multi-Vitamin-Mineral Supplement.
- Supplement yourself with Good Quality magnesium Supplement
- Supplement yourself with Good Quality Vitamin B Complex
However if you fall prey to Muscle cramps do the following:
- Massage the area.
- Stretch the muscle.
- Put ice on the strained muscle.
- Warm the cramp area.
- Take bath in Epsom salt.
- For Cramps in the calf or in the back of the thigh (hamstring), try putting your weight on the affected leg and bending your knee slightly
- For cramps in the front of the thigh (quadriceps), hold onto a chair to steady yourself and pull your foot back toward your buttock.
With the above tips you will be able to take due care of your muscles, however if you experience it quite frequently you should speak to your doctor. In rare cases they could signal a medical problem that requires treatment.