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What are muscle cramps and how can you cope with the pain

Young man with leg pain, isolated on whiteMuscle cramps are sudden and involuntary contractions of one or more muscles in the body. If you have ever stopped midway during a leisurely jog in the park or have been awakened in the middle of the night due to a sudden and excruciating stabbing pain in any region of your body, you know you are suffering from a vexing muscle cramp.

Muscle cramps are typically harmless but the pain can be unbearable, which may prevent you from using the affected muscle until the pain subsides.

Muscle cramps often occur during the night or during physical activity, especially in hot weathers. Muscle cramps are caused by malfunctioning nerves. At times, the malfunction may result from health problems such as a pinched nerve in your back or in the neck or a spinal cord injury. Other common causes of muscle cramps include:
• Overusing a particular muscle during physical activity
• Dehydration or not drinking sufficient water during physical exertion
• Insufficient blood reaching the muscles
• An inadequate amount of minerals in your diet or a mineral deficiency in your body

Cramps can be agonizing but they often recover on their own. Simple steps such as taking medications can also make a cramp easier to bear with. Some treatment measures include taking medications to treat the conditions that are causing the muscle cramps. In most cases, muscle cramps are relieved with self-care measures such as gentle stretching and massage.

How does a muscle cramp take place?

A muscle cramp is a sudden contraction of a muscle that causes it to become tight. In simpler words, a cramp causes a muscle to contract and harden. Muscle cramps are involuntary actions of the body and are often out of your control.

Your muscles have two states: the relaxed state and the contracted state.
The relaxed state, as the name implies, means that your muscle is not undergoing any action during this stage and your fibers are elongated. When your muscles work, for example, during exercise, the muscle fibers shorten and pull the muscles so they contract. This is a favorable reaction to physical activity, however, if the muscles stay in the contracted state for a prolonged period, they become vulnerable to cramps.

Treatment and self-care measures

Muscle cramps often resolve in a few seconds or minutes therefore, not much research has been conducted over long-term treatment measures. Some treatments that may ease symptoms include:
Rest and ice. During a muscle cramp, it would be counterproductive to continue physical activity, therefore, rest wherever you are and apply an ice pack until symptoms improve
Medication. Some medications may help control cramps. See your doctor to determine what’s best for you
Stretches. It is imperative that you stretch before and after physical activity to reduce your risk of cramps. However, a light stretch can also help elongate the tight muscles during a debilitating muscle cramp. If you are not sure how you’re supposed to stretch your muscles, seeing a physical therapist may help
Massage. In most cases, people tend to recover much quickly after a massage session. Massage therapy relaxes the tight muscles in your body and enhances the circulation of nutrients and oxygen to the affected muscles. Moreover, a good massage can flush out toxins away from the affected regions, thus improving inflammation and reducing your risk of future cramps
Increase your nutrient intake. Muscle cramps are frequently caused by nutrient deficiencies, particularly of magnesium, calcium, potassium, sodium, vitamin B and vitamin D. To increase your magnesium intake, consume foods such as spinach, kale, almonds, cashews and avocado. For calcium, consume foods such as cheese, yogurt, milk and nuts on a regular basis. Foods such as bananas, tomatoes, potatoes and citrus fruits are rich in potassium. Note that if you are on a low-sodium diet, adding some salt to your meals may abate symptoms of cramps. Beans, eggs, dairy, lean meat, whole grains and green leafy vegetables are packed with vitamin B and for vitamin D, getting more sun or consuming vitamin D fortified foods may help. If food isn’t fulfilling your nutrient requirements, a supplement may be necessary.

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