Most muscle cramps develop in the leg muscles, particularly in the calf. Besides the sudden, sharp pain, you might also feel or see a hard lump of muscle tissue beneath your skin.Other muscles that can cramp include: fingers, neck, facial muscles, eye lids, stomach, lower back, thighs, and shoulder muscles.
Overuse of a muscle, dehydration, muscle strain or simply holding a position for a prolonged period can cause a muscle cramp. In many cases, however, the cause isn’t known.In some cases, they may be related to an underlying medical condition, such as:
- Inadequate Blood Supply: Narrowing of the arteries that deliver blood to your legs (arteriosclerosis of the extremities) can produce a cramp-like pain in your legs and feet while you’re exercising. These cramps usually go away soon after you stop exercising.
- Nerve Compression: Compression of nerves in your spine (lumbar stenosis) can also produce cramp-like pain in your legs. The pain usually worsens the longer you walk. Walking in a slightly flexed position — such as you would use when pushing a shopping cart ahead of you — may improve or delay the onset of your symptoms.
- Mineral Depletion: Too little potassium, calcium or magnesium in your diet can contribute to leg cramps. Diuretics — medications often prescribed for high blood pressure — also can deplete these minerals.
Factors that might increase your risk of muscle cramps include:
- Age: Older people lose muscle mass, hence the remaining muscle gets over stressed easily.
- Dehydration: Athletes who become fatigued and dehydrated while participating in warm-weather sports frequently develop muscle cramps.
- Pregnancy: Muscle cramps are also very common during pregnancy.
- Medical conditions: You might be at higher risk for muscle cramps if you have diabetes, nerve, liver or thyroid disorders.
Fluid Imbalances and Dehydration
Whether fluid imbalances and mild dehydration can trigger muscle cramping is open to debate, we know that muscle cramps can and do occur with severe dehydration and heat injury. The following minerals in balanced amounts are extremely important, and an imbalance of these can cause severe muscular cramps.
Sodium is one of the main positively charged mineral ions or electrolyte in bodily fluid. The body needs it to help maintain normal body-fluid balance and blood pressure, and in conjunction with several other electrolytes, it is critical for nerve impulse generation and muscle contraction.
Potassium is the major electrolyte found inside all the cells, including the muscle and nerve cells. It works in close association with sodium and chloride in the generation of electrical impulses in the nerves and the muscles, including the heart muscle. Potassium is found in most foods, but is especially abundant in fresh vegetables, potatoes, certain fruits (melon, bananas, berries, citrus fruits), milk, meat, and fish.
In addition to its role in bone health, magnesium plays an important role in stabilizing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy source for muscle contraction, and also serves as an electrolyte in body fluids. Muscle weakness, muscle twitching, and muscle cramps are common symptoms of magnesium deficiency.
Calcium is involved in muscle contractions including that of the heart, skeletal muscles, and smooth muscle found in blood vessels and intestines, as well as the generation of nerve impulses. Blood calcium is tightly controlled and regulated by several hormones, including parathyroid hormone and vitamin D.
How to Loosen Contracted Muscles
Muscles contract when being used and will relax or loosen when not in use. However, your muscle may sometimes stay tight or suddenly involuntarily contract causing a cramp or a spasm. Several different options can help loosen a contracted muscle, depending on the exact cause of your muscle cramp.
Stretch out your muscle. Although initially painful, stretching a contracted muscle helps it to loosen and relax. The exact stretch will depend on which muscle is cramped. Most times, it is the leg muscles that are affected. Sitting on the floor with your legs spread wide and outstretched in front of you and slowly bending your upper body over the affected leg, reaching toward your toes helps a lot.Remember to not bounce your muscles but gently lean forward.
Massage your contracted muscle. Using your fingers, gently press into the muscle and rub in a circular motion. The pressure relaxes a contracted muscle. If you are unable to loosen your muscle, schedule a massage with a physio or massage therapist.
Drink plenty of water to help loosen your contracted muscle. A lot of times, muscle cramps occur because of dehydration. Water and sport drinks help relieve your muscle contraction.
Add more potassium to your diet. For a muscle contraction, eat a banana or drink orange juice. The potassium will help loosen your muscles.
Apply heat to your affected muscle. Take a warm shower to help the muscle relax. You can also apply a heating pad or hot water bottle to the muscle. The heat allows your muscle to loosen.