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Muscle Cramps

 

People who use certain muscles all the time, such as athletes, gardeners and professional drivers, often suffer from cramps in one or more muscles.

 

Symptoms

  • A sharp, sudden, painful spasm (or tightening) of a muscle, especially in the legs
  • The muscle feels hard to the touch
  • Twitching of the muscle
  • Persistent cramping pains in lower abdominal muscles
  • Exercise-induced (heat) cramps

 

Causes

Muscles contract or lengthen in response to desire to move. Cramps occur when a muscle contracts with great intensity and stays contracted, refusing to stretch out again.

The occasional muscle cramp is not cause for concern, but if they occur frequently there may be an underlying mineral or hormonal imbalance. This is particularly the case with older people, who may experience muscle cramps when taking certain drugs that deplete the minerals potassium and magnesium from the body.

In younger people, cramps are more commonly due to loss of mineral salts and dehydration brought on by exercising (particularly in high temperatures) - these are commonly referred to as heat cramps.

Poor circulation can also result in cramps, particularly in the calf muscle.

 

Natural Therapies

  • Potassium and magnesium deficiency are both associated with recurrent cramping; for best results, use these two minerals in combination
  • Electrolyte replacement drinks are used for heat cramps, as they re-hydrate the body and quickly replace minerals lost through sweating.

 

Lifestyle Factors

Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water every day, and ensure you are receiving plenty of potassium and magnesium by eating a well-balanced diet. Fruits such as apricots (especially dried), bananas and raisins contain high amounts of potassium, while nuts and soy beans are good sources of magnesium.

Stretching before and after exercise is important. Yoga classes are a great way to improve your flexibility and stretch out your muscles.

Regular massage can also help to keep the muscles relaxed.

 

Remedy

Be sure to warm up before exercising, and to drink plenty of fluid before, during and after your training session. On hot days, or if you tend to sweat a lot, an electrolyte replacement drink will help prevent dehydration and cramps.

 

Important Notes

If you are elderly and experiencing recurrent cramps, consult your health care professional, who can help to pinpoint the cause of the problem.

Severe cramp-like pains in your chest, shoulders, or arms can be symptoms of a heart attack; call immediately for medical help.

Potassium supplements are not suitable for people taking certain types of medication. Consult your health care professional if you are in doubt.

Consult your health care professional if:

  • You experience frequent muscle cramps
  • Your muscle cramp lasts more than an hour
  • Call an ambulance if the cramp is in the chest
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