Muscle cramps can be an annoying, uncomfortable, and even painful experience. Muscle cramps are involuntary contractions that occur in our muscles and can affect different muscle groups. In this article, we will discuss what causes muscle cramps, how to relieve cramps, and how to stop cramps from happening in the first place.
What Are Muscle Cramps?
Muscle cramps are involuntary muscle contractions. Whenever a muscle in your body is cramping, your body is vigorously contracting many muscle fibers at once, which can be pretty painful and make it challenging to continue functioning normally. During exercise, it can also make it difficult to use a muscle safely without damaging or tearing the muscle tissue.
The legs are most commonly affected by muscle cramps, usually in the back of your lower leg or in the front or back of your thigh. However, muscle cramps can occur in any muscle, such as the arms, hands, feet, neck, and abdominal wall.
The most common type of cramp is a sudden, sharp pain that lasts from a few seconds to several minutes.
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
Muscle cramps can have a variety of causes, such as:
- Overuse. Some cramps are from overuse of muscles, usually from exercising or physical labor.
- Muscle Injuries. Previous muscle injuries can also trigger cramps in the affected area.
- Dehydration. Dehydration can trigger cramps as well. The excessive loss of fluids in the body can impede thermal regulation in the muscles, alter water movement across muscle cell membranes, and interfere with proper muscle function, all of which can contribute to muscle cramping.
- Nutritional Deficiencies. Nutritional deficiencies can also trigger muscle cramps, particularly deficiencies in minerals that support healthy muscle function, such as potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium.
- Poor Circulation. Poor circulation may also cause cramps. Poor circulation can restrict blood flow to your extremities and can result in a limited blood supply to your legs and feet, causing cramping in those areas when you engage the muscles.
- Medical Conditions. In some cases, muscle cramps can also be caused by a medical condition such as hypothyroidism, kidney failure, alcoholism, or spinal nerve compression.
- Unknown Causes. In some cases, the causes of muscle cramping are unknown.
It may be helpful to consult with a health professional, especially if you experience recurring cramps. A health professional will be best trained to diagnose your particular type of muscle cramp and provide an effective protocol for treatment.
Why Do Muscles Cramp During Exercise?
There are many possible reasons why muscles might cramp during exercise—mineral depletion, glycogen depletion, dehydration, over-hydration, and muscular fatigue. However, muscle cramps associated with exercise are either nutritional or functional—or a combination of these two factors.
When a muscle is deprived of water, it tends to cramp. This is a body-signal warning you that there is something wrong and to prevent using this muscle. You may notice dehydration-related cramps more regularly in the summer or climates with warmer temperatures. Therefore, staying hydrated when you exercise is essential to prevent dehydration-related cramps and other health issues caused by dehydration.
Electrolyte-related cramps occur when your body lacks the essential minerals necessary for healthy muscular function. Electrolytes are substances that have a natural electrical charge when dissolved in water. They help your body regulate chemical reactions and maintain the balance between fluids inside and outside your cells, among other functions. Electrolyte deficiencies can result in a lack of balance of fluids in the cells and can impair tissue and organ functions. The primary electrolyte minerals are sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Eating whole organic foods rich in these minerals can keep your body in good health and can prevent nutrition-related muscle cramps.
Functional muscle cramps occur when the load placed on a muscle group is greater than the muscle’s ability to withstand the force. This can occur when muscles are weak and underused or through excessive physical activity. Weak muscles cramp because they have difficulty withstanding the force of weight placed on them. Even someone with good muscular development, however, can experience functional muscle cramps during periods of intense exertion. Therefore, intense exercises are essential to prevent muscle cramps and strengthen muscles gradually.
How to Relieve Cramps
Thankfully there are a variety of ways that we can alleviate muscle cramps. Some of the best ways to relieve cramps include:
- Applying a hot cloth or heating pad
- Applying ice
- Supplementing with anti-inflammatory or muscle-relaxing herbs or supplements
Stretching a cramping muscle may help to stop the cramp and alleviate the pain. For example, if your calf muscle is cramping, pulling your foot up with your hand to stretch the calf muscle may help alleviate the pain.
Applying a hot compress such as a heating pad or hot washcloth to the painful area may help to relax the muscles and stop the cramping. Heat also brings more blood to the area where it is applied, which can help stop muscle spasms.
Applying ice or a cold cloth may also be beneficial for alleviating cramps. Ice is particularly beneficial for injuries like muscle tears. Ice shuts down inflammation and swelling and can reduce pain early on. For most injuries, it is recommended to use ice for the first few days and to apply heat only 72 hours after the injury occurs when the inflammation and swelling have gone down. Whether it is best to use heat or ice on a cramp can depend on your type of cramp.
If your pain doesn’t improve from the above methods, anti-inflammatory or muscle-relaxing herbs or supplements may help alleviate pain. In addition, some people use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen to reduce inflammation. Still, these may harm your stomach and gut health and are best avoided unless absolutely necessary.
A gentler and more natural anti-inflammatory supplement is our Liposomal Curcumin tonic, which contains a highly absorbable form of curcumin. This main active turmeric root ingredient provides anti-inflammatory benefits.
Muscle relaxing herbs and supplements may also help to relieve cramping. Some of the best herbs and supplements for stopping muscle cramping include:
- Cherry juice
- Himalayan Salt
- Cayenne Pepper
How to Prevent Muscle Cramps
There are several things that you can do to prevent muscle cramps from occurring in the first place. The important actions you can take to prevent muscle cramps include:
- Stretching. Stretching or warming up your muscles before participating in a more strenuous physical activity like a sport or exercise routine is perhaps the best way to prevent cramps. It is also beneficial to have a regular stretching practice to keep yourself limber and flexible rather than limiting your stretching to periods before exercise. Failure to warm up before exercise significantly increases your risk of muscle strain and injury.
- Limit Exercises That Strain Your Muscles. This one is pretty obvious, nevertheless, a meaningful way to prevent muscle cramps is to avoid or limit the exercises that excessively strain your muscles and lead to muscle cramps.
- Stay Hydrated. Hydration is key to proper muscular health and function. Suppose your muscles lack proper hydration; they can spasm and cause cramping and pain. This can be prevented by keeping yourself hydrated, which benefits your entire body beyond just muscular health.
- Eat A Nutrient-Rich Diet. Nutritional deficiencies can also cause muscle cramping. So, ensuring you are not lacking in any essential nutrients is a great way to reduce your risk of muscle cramping (and a great way to improve your health overall). This can be done by following a nutrient-rich, organic, whole foods diet and supplementing with essential daily nutrients (link daily nutrients protocol) that people are commonly deficient in.
- Increase Electrolyte Intake. Making sure you are getting enough minerals is essential for muscular health and athletic performance, as many minerals act as electrolytes that support healthy muscular function. Our Fulvic Acid & Trace Ocean Minerals tonic (link) contains over 72 minerals and is a great way to ensure you meet your body’s mineral needs.
- Avoid Distractions When Exercising. The mind-body connection is essential. When you are distracted and not paying attention to your movements, you increase your risk of strain and injury. This can be avoided simply by staying present with your body and movement while you exercise. Synchronizing your movements with your breath can help with this as well.
- Rest. Last but not least, balancing your exercise with rest is crucial. Resting the muscles is essential for recovery, especially for people with more active lifestyles or engaging in intense exercise.
How to Relieve Abdominal Cramps
Abdominal cramps are typically either food related or period related. If you are experiencing menstrual cramps, eating certain herbs or foods that help with menstrual cramps can possibly alleviate them. Fruits and leafy greens are among the best foods that help with period cramps because they are anti-inflammatory, helping to alleviate the root cause of much of the pain. Leafy greens are also rich in magnesium, which can help relax the abdominal muscles and are therefore good foods that may stop period cramps. Other magnesium-rich foods to help with cramps include dark chocolate, yogurt, nuts and seeds.
As for food related abdominal cramps, often herbs are the best choice here. These may also be helpful for menstrual cramps too. Herbs like chamomile, ginger and mint are also very helpful for ab cramps or a bloating upper stomach. Abdominal muscle cramps are often caused by gas, which typically causes bloating in the upper abdomen. These herbs can help alleviate abdominal muscles cramps because they have carminative properties, meaning they dispel gas, which in turn, can alleviate your ab cramp or cramping after eating.
Drinking a hot tea with carminative herbs is a great remedy if you have cramps after eating. If you have cramps and diarrhea after eating, however, it may be caused by a pathogenic bacteria (food poisoning). If you experience cramping and diarrhea after eating frequently, then it could be a digestive disorder and is worth speaking to your doctor about.
What If I Experience Stomach Cramps Every Time I Eat?
If you experience cramps every time you eat there are a few things to consider. First, pay attention to how you are eating. Are you overeating? Are you eating too fast? Are you not chewing your food well enough? Are you eating the same types of food each time you experience cramping after eating? If any of these are to blame, then changing these eating habits can alleviate stomach cramps and bloating in upper abdomen or lower abdomen. If you change these habits and still experience cramping, it could be a more serious digestive condition and is something you should consult with your doctor about.
Muscle cramps are painful and uncomfortable. These involuntary muscular contractions can affect different muscle groups but most commonly affect muscles in the legs. In addition, the abdominal muscles, neck, arms, hands, and feet are commonly affected. Muscle cramps can have various causes, such as:
Overuse of the muscle
In some cases, the cause of muscle cramping is unknown. Try stretching the affected muscle or adding heat to the area to relieve muscle cramps. If the muscle is injured, it is recommended to apply ice to the area rather than heat. Certain herbs and supplements can also help to relax cramped muscles.
You can prevent muscle cramping by staying hydrated, stretching before exercising, avoiding exercise directly after meals, ensuring you meet your body’s nutritional needs, and getting plenty of rest between exercises.