Muscle cramps are, involuntary, painful spasms of a muscle. They occur most commonly in the calf, hamstring or foot. Whilst cramps most often fix themselves after a few moments as the muscle relaxes, many people have regular, recurring cramps. Regular cramping can be a sign of an underlyingcondition or ongoing nutritional deficiency. Rest assured if you cramp regularly, your condition may be treated using the below tips. 

WHAT CAUSES MUSCLE CRAMPS?

The definitive cause of the muscle spasms we call ‘cramps’ are not fully understood. Muscle spasms are usually a sign that the cramping muscle is under excess stress, heat or lacking key nutrients. If you are cramping regularly, there could be a number of contributing factors:

  • poor physical fitness
  • tight muscles or lack of flexibility
  • inadequate diet / nutritional intake
  • genetic factors
  • excessive perspiration / dehydration
  • muscular fatigue or injury
  • shortage of key vitamins and minerals for muscle health (minerals critical for muscle function are calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. Other studies suggest that vitamin B, C, D and E shortages may also be indicated)
  • disease or prescription medications

Any or all of the above factors can lead to irregular muscle function, which increases the chance of spasm / cramp. 

HOW DO I AVOID MUSCLE CRAMPS?

In looking at the above risk factors, you can reduce your risk of cramping by trying the following tips:

  1. Maintain your fitness.

  2. Stretch regularly. 5 minutes of gentle stretching on the floor during a TV ad break each evening can be sufficient to drastically improve flexibility. Hold each stretch so that you are straining but not feeling pain, and release after 30 seconds.

  3. Ensure you are getting the right minerals to maintain proper muscle function. Eating a varied healthy diet is the best way to get a range of minerals.

  4. Try a magnesium supplement. Getting your RDI of some minerals is tough to do from food alone.The reccomended daily intake is 400 mg/day and 310 mg/day, respectively, for adult men and women aged 19-30 years and 420 mg/day and 320 mg/day, respectively, for men and women aged 31 and over. If you think you are struggling to get enough nutrients into your diet to stop cramping, you may benefit from taking a magnesium supplement to aid muscle relaxation.

  5.  Magnesium helps all the muscles of the body to function optimally and to contract in a normal, healthy way. It is also important for exercise performance . Taking a magnesium supplement* may help prevent muscular cramps and spasms and aid in the management of leg cramps that occur during the night. 

  6. Try a combined Magnesium and Calcium Supplement * An imbalance of the minerals involved in muscle contraction and relaxation could be both magnesium and calcium.  

  7. Ensure you are drinking enough fluids throughout the day, especially before, during and after periods of physical exertion. Drink a glass of water first thing when you wake up in the morning to top up any fluids lost during sleep.

  8. Know your exercise boundaries. In hot / humid conditions, take it easy to avoid excessive perspiration.

  9. If muscle cramps persist despite trying the above, see your doctor or healthcare professional

*Magnesium may only be of assistance when dietary intake is inadequate

QUICK, I’M CRAMPING! HELP ME!

We usually don’t spare muscle cramps a second thought until the muscle is already in spasm and we are clutching the affected limb in agony. Use the below tips to shorten the severity and duration of cramps.

  • Gently stretch the muscle that is cramping
  • Massaging the muscle (provided doing so is not too painful) can help increase blood flow to the area and relax the muscle.
  • Apply an ice pack to cool down overheated muscles.
  • Take a rest after the cramp has subsided. A cramp is your muscle crying out for help. Taking a rest will help the muscle relax and can help ensure it doesn’t immediately recur.