Muscle cramps attack suddenly, but usually only last for less than a minute. It is a common occurrence although it can be very painful for some individuals.
What causes muscle cramps and can it be prevented? What should you do if you have cramps?
How Does It Start
Most of the muscle cramps occur on the legs and is caused by strenuous activities, like exercise. It can also occur suddenly at night for no discernible reason.
Muscle cramps can happen to anyone, even healthy people who exercise regularly, but some are more susceptible to such an event. Individuals with tight calf muscles as a result of a sedentary lifestyle, accumulation of fluid in the lower leg through inactivity, dehydration and low levels of electrolytes, and a pre-existing nerve condition and thyroid problems will increase the chances of having muscle cramps.
In rare cases, muscle cramps mimic the symptoms of other medical conditions such as tetany, peripheral arterial disease, illusory muscle cramps, and involuntary muscle contractions.
What are Its Symptoms
Besides the legs, cramps can sometimes occur on the arms and abdomen. The intensity of the cramps can vary from nearly unnoticeable tics to very painful contractions. It could also last from a few seconds to a full 15 minutes depending on its cause and might even recur several times. The affected area might feel hard to the touch and could also twitch and distort depending on the intensity of the cramping. Fortunately, most muscle cramps are benign and will go away on their own without any treatment.
How to Prevent It
Some people are more likely to experience muscle cramps more frequently than others depending on their lifestyle. Athletes for example, tend to have cramps if they fail to condition their body or after an intense training session. The elderly are also prone to muscle cramps because of muscle atrophy caused by inactivity. To prevent muscle cramps, you should warm up by stretching properly before exercise and live an active life in general.
Avoid twisting or arching your back when stretching, however, because it can lead to injuries. Stay hydrated always and eat a healthy diet especially if you’re pregnant, because calcium and magnesium deficiency can also cause muscle cramps. Avoid prolonged exposure to heat or cold and avoid sitting or standing in the same position for a long time.
How to Treat It
Muscle cramps do not need any treatment, because they will usually go away on their own. However, you need to stop what you’re doing when you’re experiencing cramps. You can massage or stretch the affected area while waiting for the cramps to stop. You could also apply a hot compress on the cramping muscles, or a cold compress if your muscles feel sore, especially after an intense workout. If your cramps are severe, however, you need to see a doctor to determine its cause. It could be a symptom of a serious problem with your nerves, circulation, or hormones.