What causes muscle spasms and cramps?

What causes muscle spasms and cramps?

Charley horses, spasms, cramps — whatever you call them, we’re all familiar with this painful sensation that often occurs in the legs.

Muscle cramps are generally not serious, but they can be extremely uncomfortable and disruptive to your daily life and your sleep. Knowing the cause of your cramps may help prevent future pain.

Unfortunately, narrowing down the cause of your muscle spasms or cramps may not be as simple as you’d think. Many muscle cramps are the result of overexertion, muscle strain or dehydration. There are, however, several other possible causes, including:

Poor blood circulation to the legs. If the arteries that deliver blood to your legs become narrow during exercise and your body needs more circulation, it can produce painful cramps. These cramps usually subside when you stop exercising.

Nerve compression or pinched nerve in the spine. If the nerves in your spine become compressed, it can produce cramp-like pain in your legs. Pain usually worsens with walking or activity. Stretching, yoga and/or chiropractic adjustments may help alleviate the pinched nerve.

Mineral depletion. Not enough potassium, magnesium or calcium in your diet can cause leg cramps. Diuretic medications can increase depletion of these minerals. Increasing intake of vitamins and minerals in your diet can reduce cramps related to mineral deficiencies.

In addition to the causes named above, other potential causes of muscle spasms or cramps include: 

  • Insufficient stretching before or after exercise
  • Exercising in heat
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Side effect of medication

Some people may be more at risk of muscle cramps, including older adults, pregnant women and those with medical conditions such as diabetes or nerve, liver or thyroid disorders.

No matter the cause, there are several things you can do to alleviate your discomfort when painful muscle spasms or cramps occur. First, stop any activity that may have induced the cramp. Then try these tips to treat your muscle spasm:

  • Massage the affected muscle.
  • Stretch.
  • Ice the muscle.
  • Warm the muscle with a heating pad or warm rice bag or wrap.
  • Take an Epsom salt bath.

To prevent future muscle spasms and cramps, stay hydrated and stretch properly before and after exercise. Eat more foods high in vitamins and minerals, such as fruits and vegetables. Potassium-rich foods include: apples, bananas, dried fruits, avocado, mushrooms, yogurt, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes and cantaloupe.

In most cases, self-care measures are enough to alleviate muscle cramps, but if you experience frequent cramps or spasms, or if the self-care measures listed above do not relieve your muscle cramps or pain, contact a provider with Goshen Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at (574) 534-2548.

Posted: 7/13/2016 by Goshen Health
Filed under: exercise, fitness, fitness and exercise

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