Excruciating. Violent. Severe. All those words can be used to describe cramping leg muscles. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with intense pain from cramping leg muscles? Even otherwise healthy, active young people can experience this kind of shocking situation, from time to time. Endurance athletes, such as runners, cyclists, and swimmers, are even more susceptible to these sudden pains. The contractions are often so strong that muscles are still sore the next day.
If you have had trouble with them, you’ve probably wondered what has caused them. In that, you’re certainly not alone. Largely avoided in medical textbooks, the painful phenomenon of muscle cramping is sometimes referred to as a “medical mystery.” Some physicians and scientists think they have a pretty good idea of what might cause them, though. Four of the most plausible explanations are listed below along with why they make good sense.
1. Chronic Overuse
Sometimes weakness of other muscles, usually located higher up the body, can produce cramping of other muscles. For instance, when weak hamstrings or buttock muscles are weak, repetitive motions such as walking require constant overuse of the calf muscle in order to compensate for the weakness.
2. Micronutrient Deficiency
The most common micronutrient cited is potassium, but many believe that both potassium and sodium deficiencies can result in involuntary muscular contractions. The issue is that an imbalance can cause disruption of muscle tissue contraction and relaxation.
Water is an important factor in muscle health and metabolism, partly because muscles lacking proper nourishment have problems ridding themselves of metabolites such as lactic acid, a by-product of muscular action.
4. Lack of Blood Flow
Commonly attributed to inactivity and age, lack of blood flow to the legs can result in cramping. Basically, when the blood fails to carry enough oxygen to leg muscles, the removal of waste products from leg tissue is delayed, producing cramping of the muscles.
Antidotes for muscle cramps are even less accepted than their origins. However, often they are simple. Examples of ways to stop muscle cramps include these:
- Massaging and stretching the muscle
- Using heat therapy to relax the muscle
- Taking mild pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, according to the instructions on the label
- Drinking more fluids, especially sports drinks, such as Gatorade
Preventing muscle cramps can be possible by following these ideas:
- Drinking enough fluids to produce urine that appears light yellow or clear
- Limiting alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, which can lead to dehydration
- Eating a healthy diet that includes calcium, magnesium, and potassium
- Taking a multivitamin to supplement a healthy diet
- Stretching muscles regularly, especially at bedtime and before and after exercise
- Avoiding sudden increases in your exercise routine
If you’re still plagued with leg cramps, you’ll want to talk with your physician about other possible causes, such as medication you may be taking.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com or call them at 202-223-8500.
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