What are heat cramps and how can you prevent them?

What are heat cramps and how can you prevent them?

Have you ever experienced painful muscle cramps while exercising or working in a hot environment? Those brief but painful cramps are known as heat cramps.

Heat cramps are muscle spasms that can occur in the calves, thighs, abdomen, arms or shoulders, and generally show up after several hours of excessive sweating and physical exertion.

Although the exact cause of heat cramps is unknown, they are most likely due to an imbalance in electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. These minerals can be depleted by heavy work or sweat, and you may experience heat cramps if they're not replenished.

What to do about heat cramps

  • In most cases, heat cramps will go away on their own, but there are a few things you can do to help:
  • Take a break and cool down.
  • Drink clear juice or a sports drink enriched with salt.
  • Make your own sodium-based drink by mixing 1/2 teaspoon of salt in one quart of water.
  • Slowly and gently stretch or massage the affected muscles.
  • Wait until heat cramps go away to resume strenuous activity.

If your heat cramps do not go away within an hour, call your doctor.

Preventing heat cramps
It is possible to prevent these painful muscle spasms. Here are a few tips:

  • Stretch before exercise to help reduce cramps and injury.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
  • If you are exercising for long periods of time (more than one hour), or if you work in a hot environment, stay hydrated with sports drinks enriched with water and salt/electrolytes to help prevent an onset of painful cramps. Drink 16 to 20 ounces per hour.
  • Avoid exercising during the hottest time of the day. 
  • Wear light, loose, moisture-wicking clothing that keeps moisture off your skin and allows it to evaporate. 
  • Wear a hat with a brim and sunscreen to prevent sunburn, which can affect your body’s ability to cool effectively. 
  • Do not drink alcohol before or during exercise.

Heat cramps are painful yet brief and usually go away on their own, although in some extreme cases, medical attention may be necessary to restore fluids and electrolytes. If you become unable to drink sufficient fluids due to nausea or vomiting or have symptoms of severe heat illness including dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, headache, racing heart, shortness of breath or temperature greater than 104 degrees, seek immediate medical care.

If you've followed these tips and are still experiencing issues with heat cramps, consult a primary care provider at Goshen Health. 


Posted: 11/11/2016 by Goshen Health
Filed under: exercise, fitness, fitness and exercise

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