Most people have experienced a muscle cramp at one time or another, and know how painful it is when this happens. A muscle that twitches is considered a spasm, but when a muscle contracts involuntarily, is forceful and sustained, it is a muscle cramp. Cramps are notorious for taking place in the foot, calf, thigh, as well as fingers, hands and arms. A muscle cramp can last from seconds to minutes or much longer. Furthermore, it can happen several times before the contractions finally relax and subside.
Symptoms and Causes
Cramps can involve part of the muscle or whole, as well as a complex of muscle groups that tend to flex in the opposite direction. Although children can experience muscle cramps, occurrences appear to be more frequent with aging. While most cramps involve the extremities, major organs are also susceptible to these events, as many people are familiar with stomach cramps.
Muscle cramps can be caused by several factors. If a person continually does strenuous physical activity, cramps can come about due to overexertion of muscles, as well as standing on hard surfaces for a long period of time. Muscle cramps can also be caused by prolonged sitting, or certain sedentary leg positions. Cramps in the leg, popularly called “charley horses,” can occur when in a sedentary position, or at night when one is in bed, referred to as “nocturnal leg cramps.” Muscle cramps can also result due to dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, poor blood circulation, metabolism, hormonal imbalances and certain kinds of medications. Very rarely are muscle cramps involved with a medical condition; but if symptoms are severe, frequent and persistent, and do not respond to simple treatments, you should see your doctor.
The main remedy for muscle cramps is to stretch that particular part of the body by moving; getting up and walking around; gently massaging the muscle; or putting something warm over the area. If the cause is dehydration, drink plenty of water and replace electrolyte balance by eating a banana.
For people who get charley horses, do this exercise when you are not experiencing a cramp. Stand about two feet from a wall, leaning your forearm against the surface. With knees and back straight, heels on the floor, stretch your calf muscles as best as you can. A second exercise you can do is first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed. While you are lying down, flex your toes towards your head, keeping the legs as straight as possible.
For those who experience hand cramps (such as writer’s cramp), where fingers can seize and flex backwards, try to gently stretch the fingers to relieve the cramp. For hand cramps, press you hand against a wall with fingers facing down, then massage and stretch out cramped fingers.
If muscle cramps bother you once in a while, try doing stretches at least three times a day, whether it is arms/hands/legs. Eat potassium-rich foods like bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, oranges or grapefruit. Wear comfortable,supported shoes, and sleep with toes up, not down. Muscle cramps can be a painful event, but following the above suggestions can greatly reduce events from happening.