The Lowdown on Muscle Cramps

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Let’s just say you are finishing that last rep after 5 sets of lunges. Suddenly, you feel a sharp pain in your left calf. You immediately break your form to grab that muscle in an effort to make the pain stop. You are unofficially done with your set, but what was that?


The scenario described here is what I would call the perfect storm for muscle cramps, but what are they?



What Are Muscle Cramps?

Muscle cramps are defined as the sudden and involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles. Also referred to as a “charley horse”, the muscle cramps can cause severe pain. Though muscle cramps are generally harmless, they do make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle.


Causes of Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps often occur after long periods of exercise or physical labor. This is especially the case in hot weather. Overuse of a muscle, dehydration, muscle strain, or even holding a position for an extended period of time may cause a muscle cramp. However, in many cases, the cause of muscle cramps is actually unknown.


There are some medications and certain medical conditions that may also cause muscle cramps for some people. Medical conditions that may cause muscle cramps are nerve compression, mineral depletion, and inadequate blood supply. Other factors that may increase the risk of muscle cramps are age, dehydration, and pregnancy.


Symptoms of Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps have a tendency to develop in the leg muscles, especially in the calf. Other than the sudden and sharp pain, one may also see a hard lump of muscle tissue beneath their skin. Do not be alarmed as it is just how the muscle looks when it is contracted.


Should You See a Doctor?

Muscle cramps will usually disappear on their own and rarely need medical attention, but you may need to see a doctor if…

  • You experience extreme discomfort.

  • You see visible swelling, redness, or skin changes.

  • They happen very often.

  • After self-care, the condition does not improve.

  • Are not linked to any obvious causes such as strenuous exercise.



Prevention and Self-Care

To prevent muscle cramps try to avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids daily. The amount of water your body will need depends on your age, gender, the weather, your level of physical activity, the medication you may take, and what you eat. Fluids keep your cells hydrated and less irritated so that they may stretch, contract, and relax with ease. 


Also, stretch your muscles before and after you have been using them for an extended period of time. Stretch before you go to sleep if you have a tendency to experience muscle cramps while you rest. Light exercise, such as using a stationary bike for a few minutes, is also recommended before bedtime to prevent muscle cramps while you are sleeping. 


Now that you know what muscle cramps are, read 10 Foods That May Help With Muscle Cramps.


This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.


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