Muscle Cramp Hell!
Just recently I went down to watch my husband Jason compete in his second road cycling race and after being sent on a wild goose chase to find the finish line I settled in to see him finish in fine form, however…
He was not in fine form at all! I’d just been informed by one of his team mates that he was down. Apparently he’d pulled out of the race and was on the side of the road.
Straight away I thought ‘oh shit my man is in trouble’! ‘Cause it’s not like him to quit or go down without a fight so I swiftly got into my car to go and rescue him.
When I drew closer to where I thought he’d be I could see a few cars and some people helping who I assumed was my hubs. And as I pulled up I realised it was him. He looked in a world of hurt and I’ve never seen a person in so much pain, it was agonising to watch and I felt completely useless :’( For my man was experiencing one of the most severe cramps a person can and it had caused his entire calf muscle to go rock hard. It would later be revealed that he was in the later stages of extreme dehydration and depleted electrolyte levels.
Lifting him into my car was an ordeal and something I’ll never forget! He’d been guzzling water like it was going out of fashion but then throwing it all back up quicker than it could absorb. I knew I just had to get him back to the race finish line where I could get him help. When we got there it became apparent that he’d need an IV drip so an ambulance was summoned. Before we knew it, the Ambo’s had arrived and he was in good hands. He spent a good 30 minutes getting a saline solution (I believe) fed into his body and was given some muscle relaxants. After that he started to come good. Thank god!
I took him home and looked after him that night and the next day he was much better (still very tender in his calf muscle but able to walk). This incident saw him have about a week off the bike which kind of sucks when you’re an athlete training to a pretty intense schedule. I know one thing’s for sure though- he learned a valuable lesson that day to fuel his body properly before racing or riding full stop. He learned the importance water plays and having the right electrolytes (especially when exercising on an extreme hot day through smouldering cane fields).
So this story inspired me to look a bit deeper into muscle cramps and why we get them and better yet, how they can be prevented.
What’s a Muscle Cramp?
A Muscle cramp may be experienced with a strong, painful contraction or a tightening felt around the muscle that comes unexpectedly and usually lasts from a few seconds to several minutes. It is an involuntary contracted muscle that does not relax and may involve a part of a muscle, the entire muscle, or several muscles that usually act together. A muscle cramp is also known as a charley horse. There is also what we call ‘Nighttime Leg Cramps’, it is a sudden spasm or tightening of the muscles in the calf and can sometimes be felt in the thigh or the foot. This is common during night time as you are sleeping or upon waking up.
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
Leg cramps can be caused by many conditions including dehydration and sometimes the more serious one like kidney disease. Physical therapist Matthew Hyland, president of the New York Physical Therapy Association and co-owner of Rye Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation said, “Cramps often result from vigorous exercise, trauma to the muscle, or keeping the leg in an awkward position for too long, such as sitting in a crowded theater. Other causes can include medications such as birth control, diuretics (which are often prescribed for people with high blood pressure) and steroids. A lack of potassium or calcium can also be the underlying cause, as well as cold weather.”
When it becomes acute, leg cramps are often confused with restless legs syndrome (RLS). RLS is totally different from leg cramps, it is more serious and characterized by discomfort and persistent throbbing and pulling sensations in the legs.
The causes of muscle cramps isn’t always known but may be caused by the following conditions and activities:
- Workout or exercise (injury or muscle overuse)
- Cold temperatures (like cold water)
- Pregnancy (due to decreased amounts of minerals like calcium and magnesium, especially towards the end of pregnancy)
- Insufficient potassium and calcium in the body (insufficient electrolytes)
- Sitting or standing for a long time and awkward leg position during your sleep
- Dehydration (not enough fluid in the body)
- Medical conditions such as peripheral arterial disease, kidney disease, thyroid disease and multiple sclerosis
- Certain medicines like birth control pills and steroids
How to Stop a Muscle Cramp?
Try doing several different things in order to stop a muscle cramp and prevent it from worsening. Give these tips a try:
- Massage the muscle
- Stretch the affected muscles
- Take a warm shower to relax the muscle or apply heating pad to help reduce pain
- Apply ice or cold pack
- Increase fluid intake
- Seek medical help if it persists
How to Prevent Muscle Cramps?
If you want to prevent muscle cramps from affecting you, here are helpful tips you can follow:
- Drink plenty of water and other fluids and make sure that your urine is light yellow in colour or clear like water
- Avoid or limit intake of alcoholic drinks
- Go for a bike ride or stationary bike to warm up or stretch your muscles
- Do regular stretching every day especially before and after every exercise and prior bedtime
- Eat healthy foods that are high in calcium, potassium and magnesium and if you’re an athlete find a good quality electrolyte drink (coconut water is quite good and it’s natural).
- Add Himalayan salt to food and water as it has minerals in it and can help with cramping
- Gradually increase the amount of exercise each week (it should not be sudden)
What to Take for Muscle Cramps?
According to research, an increase in you magnesium, potassium and calcium intake can help lessen muscle cramps especially nighttime leg cramps. Health experts advised to take at least 300 milligrams of magnesium daily. Supplements will help you reach the daily amount needed by the body but eating healthy foods rich in magnesium such as nuts, lentils and quinoa is even more helpful. To increase potassium levels in athletes, they are advised to eat potassium rich bananas once they reach the finish line.
Always look after yourself and plan ahead for self-care if your leg cramps ever appear again.