In order to move, we voluntarily contract and relax our muscles simultaneously. When a muscle or fibers of a muscle contract uncontrollably it causes a spasm. At times this muscle spasm is sustained over a period of time and it becomes a muscle cramp. A muscle cramp can be seen and felt in the hardening of a particular muscle.
Muscle cramps are very common and can occur in different parts of the body. One of the most common complaints is of muscle cramps in the legs, especially the calf muscles. When the leg cramp occurs in the calf it is also referred to as a Charley Horse. Other leg cramps involve the hamstring and the quadriceps muscles. Leg cramps occur in both children and adults and can last for a less than a minute or even longer. Many people suffer from leg cramps primarily at night.
Symptoms of Leg Cramps
Leg cramps are involuntary contractions of the leg muscles that can be very painful. Most leg cramps occur suddenly with warning signals that include tingling and twitching of muscles before an abrupt pain follows. Severe cramps can cause swelling and soreness and may require massage and rest to aid recovery. At the time the muscle is contracting, a visible hardening of the particular muscles can be felt. This cramping may also be visible with the muscle knotting and bulging obviously. During the cramp, it may not be possible to move your leg as well. Post the cramp, the leg muscle may feel tender to the touch. Diagnosing a leg cramp is easy as the symptoms are self-evident.
In most cases, conventional treatment for cramps also involves the use of home care and lifestyle modifications. Do keep in mind that not all of these have been scientifically tested, and so their effectiveness could vary greatly.
- If you exercise, consult with a trainer and learn a proper stretching routine. Stretches should be performed before and after exercising to warm muscles up prior to your exercise and relax them after so that the possibility of cramping is reduced. Try and not exercise just before sleeping as well. Never jump into a new exercise routine and over do it. Ease yourself into an exercise regime to allow your muscles to get used to the changes. Sudden bursts of activity and over use of muscles can cause leg cramps later.
- When a leg cramp strikes, the best thing to do for leg cramp relief is to massage the tightened muscle gently. Try and stretch the leg if you can or use a hot water bottle on the affected area to relax the contracted muscles. Having a hot shower before sleeping can also prevent leg cramps at night.
- Drinking a glass of warm milk before sleeping is an effective leg cramp cure. The calcium in the milk reduces any deficiency that may be causing the leg cramps.
- Home remedies for muscle cramps can include massaging the affected area with essential oils such as lavender oil or rosemary oil. After the massage, wrap the area in a warm towel for the best results. These oils can help relax the muscles and prevent further cramping as well.
- An easy home remedy for leg cramps is to mix one tablespoon of calcium lactate and one teaspoon each of honey and apple cider vinegar (Apple cider is the name used in the United States and parts of Canada for an unfiltered, unsweetened, non-alcoholic beverage made from apples) to a glass of warm water. Drink this concoction at least once a day as a leg cramp treatment. Leg cramps are often caused by a potassium deficiency. Since apple cider vinegar is high in potassium, it is an effective home remedy for leg cramps.
- Boil water and add one teaspoon of red raspberry tea to it. Let this infusion sit for a while before drinking it every morning and evening. Raspberry tea is an effective remedy for leg cramps at night.
- Athletes have been using mustard as a leg cramp treatment for years now. The acetic acid in mustard is believed to stimulate the muscles by producing more acetylcholine in the body. Since leg cramps may be caused by a deficiency of this compound, having a spoon of mustard can prevent leg cramps. Similarly pickle juice is also high in acetic acid and can be consumed to cure leg cramps.
Diet and other remedies for Leg Cramps
Making changes in your diet can go a long way towards treating leg cramps. These include:
- Avoid drinking too much tea, coffee, alcohol and carbonated beverages, other than what is advised above, as these can aggravate the condition rather than help matters.
- A deficiency of potassium or calcium can cause leg cramps. To this effect it is important to increase the intake of foods high in potassium and calcium such as bananas, oranges, strawberries, dried fruit, fresh orange juice and grapefruit juice, beets, spinach and mushrooms. Increasing your consumption of dairy products like milk, cheese, and yoghurt can also boost your calcium intake. Nuts such as almonds and foods like tofu and sardines are rich in calcium as well.
- Research indicates that magnesium-rich foods can also prevent leg cramps. Add green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale along with wheat germ and pumpkin seeds to increase your magnesium levels.
- Ensure that your diet is balanced and healthy and consists of foods high in vitamin A and vitamin E as well. Try including sweet potatoes, carrots, liver, salmon, sunflower seeds, and soy beans into your daily diet for the best results. Avoid refined flour and stick to whole grains and whole grain products such as breads and pastas. Processing the grains removes almost all the necessary nutrients and vitamins.
- Use the proper footwear especially when exercising to prevent putting extra pressure on the muscles and causing cramping.
- Keep the bed sheets and covers loose. Tight bed covers may cause feet to be placed awkwardly and this could result in leg cramps. Sleeping on your side also prevents leg cramps.
- During a cramp, try and point your toes to stretch the leg muscles. You can also try some easy stretching exercises before you go to sleep to prevent cramping at night.
- Yoga or Pilates can teach you how to relax your muscle and breathe through the pain. Yoga poses can improve blood circulation and minimize cramping.