Most people are likely to experience a muscle cramp at some point. Perhaps sudden cramping woke you out of sound sleep or interrupted your latest reality show binge? Though muscle cramps generally last a few seconds, it can sometimes feel like forever because the pain can be intense.
Muscle cramps occur suddenly, causing involuntary contractions in various muscles. You may experience muscle cramps in the back or front of your thigh, as well as in your lower leg, abdominal wall, arms, hands, and feet. Often, you may notice a bulging lump of muscle tissue beneath your skin during a cramp.
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
Muscle cramping is often connected to the overuse of a muscle.
When someone suddenly increases their level of physical activity, the sudden change in how hard a particular muscle works can cause some cramping,” explains OSMC’s Dr. Ryan Foreman. “That’s why it’s a good idea for people to increase activity slowly over time” he says.
Avid exercisers experience muscle cramps from overuse, too.
Dehydration and past muscle injuries may also trigger muscle cramps. If your body is low on certain minerals, like calcium, potassium, magnesium, or sodium, you’re more likely to experience muscle cramping.
Studies also show that low blood supply to your feet and legs leads to cramping in those areas when you participate in physical activities like walking and exercising. In addition, people who suffer from underlying medical conditions like kidney failure, hypothyroidism, pregnancy, alcoholism, or spinal nerve compression are at greater risk for muscle cramps.
Managing Your Muscle Cramps
One of the best ways to alleviate cramping immediately is to stretch that part of your body.
“When you’re experiencing a muscle cramp, your muscle is contracting. Gently stretching the muscle lengthens it, which can provide immediate relief,” says Dr. Foreman. Gentle massage with a stretch can also help. Applying a hot or cold compress to your sore muscles at the onset of a cramp can also reduce the pain and intensity, especially for cramps that last longer than a few seconds. Consider trying a heating pad, a hot or cold compress, or ice.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications may also provide relief for severe cramps.
Limiting Muscle Cramps
- Warm-up and stretch before and after participating in physical activity.
- Don’t exercise immediately after eating.
- Watch your caffeine intake.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
- Drink milk and orange juice and eat bananas to naturally increase your calcium and potassium intake.
If you are prone to muscle cramps while you sleep, you’ll want to control the underlying cause of muscle cramps – that is a conversation to have with your physician. For example, your doctor may recommend supplements if low calcium or potassium levels trigger cramps or encourage you to limit the types of exercises that strain your muscles and cause cramps.
Granted, they are painful, but muscle cramps are generally harmless and don’t require medical attention. However, as always, if your muscle cramps are severe, don’t improve with stretching, or persist for a long time, consult your physician.
If you’re concerned about muscle cramps or another orthopedic challenge, schedule an appointment with an OSMC physician — no primary carereferral is needed. Schedule an appointment online or call 574-264-0791.
This blog post is not intended to provide personal medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment to you or to any other individual. It is information for educational purposes only. You should not use this information in place of a consutatation or the advice of a healthcare provider.