A cramp is a painful spasm or contraction of a muscle in the body, caused due to prolonged tightening of the muscle. It may last for few seconds to few minutes, and the intensity of the pain may vary from a slight tic to severe painful contraction.
When a cramp occurs, the muscle tenses underneath the skin, and is unable to relax. Although it affects people of all age groups, it is more common in adults, especially in elderly people.
- The most common cause for a muscle cramp is inadequate intake of water. Since water carries minerals, vitamins, and other substances to different parts of the body, low water intake can cause deficiency of nutrients in the body.
- Dehydration in the body as a result of heavy exercises and sweating can cause muscle twitching while sleeping or after exercising.
- Another cause is mineral deficiencies, i.e., depleted levels of calcium, potassium, and magnesium in the body. These minerals help in various activities and maintain the body's fluid balance, hence, their deficiencies cause tremors and twitching, which eventually leads to muscle cramps.
- Fatigue, vigorous exercising, or exercising in an unusual manner can also be the reasons for cramps.
- Electrolyte imbalances, or unusual body fluid distribution is another cause.
- Lying or sitting in the same position, or in an awkward position for a long time, can cause fatigue of muscles which eventually leads to cramps.
- Shortening of the muscles, especially the calf muscles while sleeping (when the person moves a limb), causes rest cramps.
- Medications like statins, prednisone, etc., can also lead to cramps.
One of the best ways to prevent muscle cramp is to keep your body hydrated. Drinking 6 - 8 glasses of water, or any other form of fluid is strongly recommended to compensate for the fluid loss while exercising or sweating.
Rubbing or massaging the part of the affected area with essential oils, generates heat which relaxes the contracted muscle, loosens the tension beneath the skin, and relieves the pain.
Another way to relieve the pain is to perform immediate stretching exercises, and applying pressure on the main points of the cramp.
- Stand in an upright position, apply pressure on the heel of the leg, and stretch your toes upwards. Another technique to ease the pain is to stand at a three feet distance from the wall, and lean on the wall or while sitting on the bed, bend your leg, and go down to hold the sole of your foot.
- Put your hands at the main point of the cramp and with your thumb or the heel of your hand, apply pressure on that point, and hold the pressure for 8 to 10 seconds.
- Keep your thumb on the top of your foot, the flip side of your sole, and using your fingers as a resistance, slowly press your foot down for 5 to 6 seconds, and relax for another 5 to 6 seconds.
Straighten your leg and bend your ankle towards you, stretching out your calf muscles for 5 to 6 seconds. Now return to the initial position, and using your thumb as a resistance, stretch your leg upward for 5 to 6 seconds. Relax for few seconds and repeat the exercise.
- Even a tennis ball can provide significant relief from muscle cramps especially in your back or buttocks. Keep the tennis ball on the ground, and cover it with a towel. Lie on your back on top of the ball, and try moving around to find the sore spots.
Allow the ball to glide over the sore aches in your back or bottom, and as you find the sore spots let the ball sink into the muscles. Hold on to the position for few seconds or until the spasms go away. Of the many remedies, this exercise works the best.
Since mineral or vitamin deficiency is one of the main reasons for muscle cramps, ensure that your diet comprises food items like bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, critic fruits, etc., which are rich in minerals and nutrient components.
- Quinine, a bitter alkaloid extracted from chinchona bark, can be used for curing muscle cramps. However, it should be taken under a doctor's supervision, as it has been reported with some side effects like dizziness, nausea, and ringing in the ears.
- As apple cider vinegar has high level of potassium, mixing two tsp. of apple cider vinegar with a tsp. of honey in warm water, and drinking it regularly can give instant relief.
- Pickle tonic or mustard containing acetic acid increases the production of acetylcholine in the body, which loosens tension underneath the skin, and relaxes cramped muscles.
If the condition becomes persistent and recurring, it's recommended to consult a doctor for diagnosing the actual cause behind it.
Disclaimer: This is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.