Muscle Cramps

What are Muscle Cramps?

Muscles normally contract and relax numerous times throughout the day as we move around. When a muscle or group of muscles forcibly and involuntarily contracts, it is called a spasm. If the spasm lasts for a period of time without returning to its relaxed state, it then becomes a cramp. Cramps are thought to be caused by over stimulated muscle nerves, which could be the result of any number of factors – injury, vitamin deficiency, dehydration, too much rest, medications, etc.

Muscle cramps are very common, as almost everyone will experience them at some point in their life. They become more frequent as a person ages, but children also encounter them.  Cramps may last only a few seconds, or they can hold out for several minutes. It is not unusual for a cramp to happen several times before going away completely. Any muscles that we voluntarily control are susceptible to cramping, although they are generally most common in the legs.

What are the Symptoms of Muscle Cramps?

The most common symptoms of a muscle cramp are a sharp pain and a visible hardening of the effected muscle tissue. They are not often serious and are more of a nuisance than anything. However, some situations may require a visit to the doctor.

Seek medication attention

  • Occur frequently
  • Create severe discomfort
  • Do not go away with self-care
  • Are associated with swelling, muscle weakness, skin changes, or redness
  • No obvious cause

Muscle Cramps Causes

No exact causes point to muscle cramps. However, some theories suggest possible causes. These include:

  • Irregular nerve activity while sleeping can cause the leg muscles to cramp.
  • Imperiling the muscles to strains especially when exercising can cause muscle cramps.
  • A sudden restriction in the supply of blood to the affected muscles.

A latent infirmity causes secondary leg cramps. These include:

  • The extra weight of pregnancy can put stress on the leg muscles, thus, making them more exposed to cramping.
  • Leg cramps are frequently felt when resting after exercising.
  • Neurological diseases such as peripheral neuropathy and motor neuron disease.
  • If the liver malfunctions, there is a risk of toxin accumulation in the blood, which can lead to muscle contraction. Liver impairment can lead to toxin build up in the blood. Subsequently, the muscles can contract.
  • Bacterial infections, especially tetanus, can trigger muscle cramps.
  • High levels of toxins in the blood, such as lead and mercury, cause leg cramps.
  • Low levels of water in the body leads to a decrease in salt levels, which in turn triggers muscle cramps.

How are Muscle Cramps Treated?

Most muscle cramps will resolve on their own without medical treatment. Stretching exercises help the muscle to relax and get rid of the cramp more quickly, as do various massages. Heating pads are effective in relieving the pain, while increased fluid and electrolyte intake are helpful when cramps are caused by fluid loss. Medication is rarely needed, though some may find Botox injections and muscle relaxants helpful when they become a problem.

Persistent muscle cramping may require blood tests and neurological evaluations to identify the source.

Muscle Cramps Prevention

Exercise enthusiasts are advised to stretch before commencing the activity and after completing it to prevent muscle cramps caused by strenuous physical activity. Similarly, they are encouraged to perform sufficient warm-ups and cool downs before and after such an activity. Proper hydration during physical activity is vital, particularly if the duration of the exercise exceeds an hour.

Previous studies show that magnesium and calcium supplements can contribute to avoiding pregnancy related cramps. Drinking tonic water before bedtime is known to ease night cramps. It is advisable to quit smoking, as well as limit or entirely cease alcohol intake. Ride a bike or stationary bike to condition and stretch the muscles. Doctors recommend daily supplements which have shown success in preventing muscle cramps.