A muscle cramp is a painful, sudden involuntary contraction or spasm of one or more of your voluntary muscles, such as in the calf or the foot. While the cause is not known, certain key factors increase your risk of suffering muscle cramps such as dehydration and overuse or muscle fatigue.
Symptoms can range from just a slight tic or twitch to severe pain and inability to use the affected muscles for a few seconds or up to 15 minutes or longer.
The muscle may feel hard and appear distorted or twitch beneath the skin.
Why it happens?
Factors that may cause a muscle to spasm include:
- Overuse of a muscle eg writer’s cramp
- Dehydration – especially when exercising in warm weather
- Mineral depletion, through excessive perspiration
- Injury or stress
- Muscle strain
- Poor physical condition
Muscle cramps in your legs can also result from:
- Inadequate blood supply to your legs
- Compression of nerves in your back can cause cramp-like pain in your legs
- Certain medications such as diuretics can increase the risk of cramps
What natural therapies can help?
Magnesium, malic acid – can relieve sore muscles. Muscles need magnesium to contract and relax, and cramps can be an indication you magnesium levels are too low. Potassium levels may also be involved, especially if you exercise intensely, have a physical job or are taking certain cardiovascular medications.
Calcium and magnesium also assist with nerve transmission.
B group vitamins – support the nervous system.
Liquorice – supports adrenal health.
Siberian and Korean ginseng – increase the body’s resistance to stress and build up general vitality.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) and beta alanine – can help your muscles recover and repair after exercise.
Cramp bark is ideally suited to spasmodic pains/cramps in the abdominal region, including those experienced by sufferers of period pain and irritable bowel syndrome.
Did you know?
- Avoid dehydration – aim for two litres of water daily and more if you are working or exercising in warm weather. Electrolyte drinks can also help to avoid dehydration and put back the minerals lost through perspiration.
- If you suspect your prescribed medication may be contributing to your cramps, discuss the problem with your healthcare professional.
- Stretch your muscles before and after exercise.
- If you get leg cramps while you are asleep stretching before you go to bed may help.
- Massaging, stretching and applying warm liniments to the muscle cramp can help it to relax.
- Cramps are generally harmless, however can be a sign of more serious underlying conditions such as atherosclerosis. If you experience frequent and severe muscle cramps, consult your healthcare professional.