We have all had cramps at some point in our lives. You are feeling blissful one moment, and in the very next, you are immobilized due to a shooting pain. Stomach cramps, leg cramps, muscle cramps or heck, even that sudden crick in your shoulder or neck – all of these can manifest most unexpectedly and catch you off guard. Some people can get cramps in their toes or the end of their feet. Sounds familiar? The good news is that while cramps may be involuntary, they are also always temporary. However, they can be paralyzing, painfully so, each time they happen and as long as they last. Furthermore, if they occur too often, they can put an annoying wrench in your otherwise cheerful life.
Let us explore eight valid conditions that trigger a “Charlie Horse,” also known to us as leg (or muscle) cramps. Leg cramps are among the most common of all muscle cramps. Fortunately, medical experts have been able to weed out these potential triggers and recommend some straightforward and decisive solutions.
Most of us are sure to be familiar with this. We are enthusiastically working out on the treadmill, or running non-stop at the beach, and that sudden leg cramp hits us, bad! We are not saying that dehydration is the primary cause of leg cramps. But all we are saying that it is far too common of a trigger.
This is the reason why we often see athletes suffering from muscle cramps, especially when they exercise in hot weather. Fortunately, this trigger is remarkably easy to fix. Just drink up your daily dose of H2O (at least 3 to 4 glasses), and carry an extra bottle when you plan to work out. In the case of painful muscle cramps, prevention is indeed better than cure. Drink that water. Do not be like Ray Donovan and drink alcohol all day long. Does that people professional ever drink any water or eat any food?
Let us dig a little deeper into why dehydration hurts our body. It’s just water, right? Wrong! During dehydration, we also lose vital minerals like sodium, magnesium, calcium, and potassium, which are crucial to maintaining the balance within our body.
In fact and moreover, athletes are waking up to the significance of these minerals, as these are now substituted inexpensive energy drinks and mineral water.
Conversely, it is not just dehydration that causes us to lose minerals and suffer from leg cramps. A poor diet that is low in nutrition (including minerals) can do that to us too. If you struggle with leg cramps often, it is worth increasing the salt in your diet. Yes, salt is packed with sodium, a good mineral, as are potatoes, nuts, yogurt, and bananas. It is also good to run your new diet by your GP, so you don’t inadvertently jeopardize your health.
Most pregnant women are prone to leg cramps during their first two trimesters. This is because the body may lose some nutrients (especially magnesium), even as it is nurturing a new life within.
This is where noted alternative health practitioners recommend magnesium supplements to battle frequent cramping. But of course, all additional supplements and diet changes must first be run by your gynecologist, to ensure they do not interfere with the pregnancy.
There is a practical reason why fitness experts mandate stretching before every workout. Stretching gradually awakens our muscles, and prepares them for more intense activity. If you tend to work out – even mildly – without stretching, you run the risk of pushing your muscles too hard, when they least expect it. Cycling, jogging, hiking, even day-long gardening, all require a good stretch before the activity to avoid muscle cramps. This way your skeletal muscles are not surprised by a sudden surge (or lack) of blood supply during the intense exercise.
Picture this. You have just returned from an exhilarating hike and a rejuvenating union with nature. Yes, your body is tired beyond measure, but you feel good. And you tumble into bed early thinking you are going to enjoy a good night’s sleep. Not! Instead, you wake up in the middle of the night, as your leg feels bitten by a sudden bout of cramps. Ouch!
This happens when our muscles feel fatigue, and have not had time to recoup before use. If you exercise intensely every day without breaks, this could happen in a few weeks or even days, depending on your present fitness level. This is just your muscles crying out for rest, so they have time to fully restore themselves before the next intense workout. Here, the simple solution is rest. No two ways about it!
This happens when you have been standing for too long or even sitting all day. Your muscles sort of get “frozen” into place. So any sudden movement triggers a surge of blood to our legs and causes them to cramp.
If you have a sedentary job that needs you to sit at a desk all day, make sure you get up and move around every other hour at least. And if you are a sales rep who needs to be on your feet all day, well, that isn’t all that good for you either. It’s time you sit down, literally, and give those frozen muscles a break!
If you are on regular medication, it is time to read the fine print. An increasing number of drugs list muscle cramps as a potential side effect, as they may reduce the total chemicals in the body. They could also interfere with the natural blood flow (like in medicines prescribed for heart-disorders), thereby triggering cramps.
These could include drugs prescribed for pain, Alzheimer’s, Osteoporosis, Asthma, and other chronic conditions. In rare cases, your doctor may be able to switch to an alternative drug that is free of this side-effect. But mostly, he or she will ask you to expect and avoid cramps by regular stretching and adequate intake of fluids and minerals.
If none of the above triggers seem familiar to you, and yet, you suffer from frequent leg cramps, it is time to seriously take note. A host of long-term diseases can also be causing your cramps. For instance, heart-related disorders such as Peripheral Heart Disease (PDP) interfere with the electrolyte movement in your body, triggering cramps.
Sometimes cramps may even be a result of too much cholesterol, blocking adequate blood circulation. And there are also other diseases unrelated to the heart. Nerve-related disorders (such as multiple sclerosis or arthritis) are especially guilty of this. In rare cases, it could even be a symptom of an inactive thyroid due to which your body lacks an adequate supply of hormones.
Leg cramps are typically caused due to some imbalance in the body. In most cases, they disappear within 10 minutes, although the residual pain can remain as long as 18 to 20 hours. The best solution is to slowly stretch the body, especially the calf muscles, gently easing the cramp out of our body. Drinking a glass of mineral water may help. You could walk on your toes for a few minutes, as this will send blood downwards, to the parts that presently feel the lack of it.
If your lifestyle is such that you hold yourself open to leg cramps, then a good lifestyle practice is to soak in a hot tub every night before bed but this is not practical for most people. Nothing wrong with a hot shower and some pleasant sleep though!