It happens when a muscle involuntarily contracts on its own. Usually, we feel a hard lump at the point of pain, that is the contracted muscle. It can usually occur for no reason. It can occur if your muscle is fatigued, overused if your body is dehydrated or in case if the body is not getting enough electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium. Because these electrolytes help to work our muscles smoothly. Mostly cramps are not usually associated with a severe underlying condition. People usually above the age of 65 are at higher risk of developing this problem. It might be related to – Diabetes, Alcoholism, and Hypothyroidism. Physical labor or long periods of exercise particularly in hot weather can lead to muscle cramps. Certain medical conditions and medications and can also cause muscle cramps.
What are Muscle Cramps
A muscle cramp is an involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscle, which does not relax. Muscles of arms and legs are under our voluntary control, on the movement of muscles they alternatively relax as we move our limbs. Muscles of our head, neck, and trunk that maintain our posture, contracts in a synchronized manner. The muscle that involuntarily contracts is called a spasm, and if the spasm sustains and is forceful, it becomes a cramp. Muscle cramps often cause visible or palpable hardening of our involved muscle. It can involve a part of a muscle, the entire muscle or several muscles that usually act together.
A muscle cramp can be caused due to a variety of reasons like – Dehydration, Overuse of a muscle, muscle strain or simply holding a position for a prolonged period. In many cases, however, the cause is not known. Most muscle cramps are harmless, but some may be related to an underlying medical condition. It can happen due to a variety of causes –
- Inadequate Blood Supply – Arteries that supply blood to our legs, sometimes their narrowing occurs during exercise, resulting in cramp-like pain in our legs and feet. It usually resolves soon after we stop exercising.
- Nerve Compression – Lumbar stenosis or compression of nerves in the spine can also lead to cramp-like pain in our legs. Usually, the pain worsens with walking.
- Mineral Depletion – Low amount of potassium, magnesium, and calcium in our diet can lead to cramps. However, some high BP medications are also associated with this, especially – diuretics.
It is characterized by –
- It mostly develops in the Leg muscles, particularly in the calf.
- Sudden. Sharp pain.
- It may be seen as a hard lump of muscle under the skin.
When To See A Doctor
You need to go to the doctor if you have been following symptoms-
- If your cramps are causing severe discomfort
- If your cramps don’t improve with self-care
- If your cramps are associated with redness, leg swelling, and skin changes.
- If your cramps are associated with muscle weakness
- If your cramps are not associated with strenuous exercise
Types of Muscle Cramps
They may be characterized into 4 major types –
- True cramps
- Dystonic cramps
There are several factors which increase the risk of developing muscle cramps. They can be –
- Age – As the age advances, the chances of having muscle cramps increases.
- Dehydration – Athletes participating in warm-weather sports, mainly experiences fatigue and dehydration, are at higher risk.
- Pregnancy –These cramps are common during pregnancy,
- Medical Conditions – Chances of developing muscle cramps, increases if you have medical conditions like – Diabetes, Thyroid disease or hypothyroidism.
These steps may help to prevent muscle cramps –
- Avoid Dehydration – Drink plenty of water. Fluid helps to keep our muscle contract and relax and also keep muscle cells dehydrated.
- Stretch Your Muscles – If you have this problem, then usually do the stretching exercises of your leg, before you go to bed.
Usually, self-care methods are sufficient. Your doctor will usually advise you some stretching exercises, well hydration may also be helpful. If you have severe cramps and they do not resolve with self-care measures, medical treatment is needed. Treatment involves – Lifestyle and home remedies, Alternative medicine
1. Lifestyle and Home Remedies
These actions may provide relief –
- Heat or Cold Application – Use a warm bottle, warm towel or warm bath to relax tensed or tight muscle. Alternatively, ice application can also be useful.
- Stretch and Massage – Stretch the cramped muscle and then gently rub it to make it relax. In case of a calf cramp, put your whole weight on the cramped leg and then bend your knee slightly. If you are not able to stand then sit on the floor or a chair and extend your cramped leg. Try to pull the top of your foot on the affected side, toward your head while your leg remains in a straightened position. This will help to ease a back thigh (hamstring) cramp. For a front thigh (quadriceps) cramp, use a chair and stand it on and try to pull your foot on the affected side up toward your buttock.
2. Alternative Medicine
Vitamin B complex supplements are suggested by some Doctors to help manage leg cramps. However, more research is needed to confirm this. Muscle relaxants can be used to treat if it is due to any injury or due to some temporary reason. Treatment of cramps is mainly associated with treating the underlying condition. So sometimes additional medicines are prescribed to treat the underlying medical condition.
Muscle cramps are a sudden or involuntary contraction of one or more muscles. Though they are harmless but can cause severe pain, that it becomes temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle. Muscle cramps are extremely common and about 95% of people have experienced it in their lifetime.
Dr. Vikram Chauhan (MD-Ayurvedic Medicine) is an Expert Ayurveda Consultant in Chandigarh (India). He has vast experience of herbs and their applied uses. He has successfully treated numerous patients suffering from various ailments, throughout the world. He is CEO and Founder of Krishna Herbal Company and Planet Ayurveda in Chandigarh, India. He researched age old formulas from ancient Ayurvedic text books to restore health and save human beings from the worst side-effects of chemical-based treatments.