Don't Let Cramps Cramp Your Style

by DavalosMcCormack on June 26, 2008

The other night I was lying in bed minding my own business, honestly I was! When all of a sudden my calf muscle went into spasm and a searing pain shot through my leg. After whimpering pathetically I leaped out of bed, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I stumbled inelegantly out, then hopped around.

It’s not a pretty picture is it, but for anyone who has ever had a muscle cramp (and that’s about 95 percent of us during out lifetime) it’s a familiar scene. So it got me wondering, what causes cramps and how can you prevent them?

The news is good, and bad. The bad news is we don’t really know what causes cramps. In fact the website (a disastrously bad name for a really quite good site) lists 114 different possible causes for cramps, everything from not stretching enough to diabetes or a dangerous drug interaction.

The good news is that in most cases it’s a benign variation on a few themes, and you can easily take steps to reduce your likelihood of having problems.

Let’s start with the most common candidates, and the easiest ones to fix. Overuse and dehydration.

Overuse is obvious, you’ve been pushing the muscles in your legs too hard so rest up, give them a chance to recover. That doesn’t mean you have to stop exercising altogether. If running is your sport of choice, instead of running every day you could switch to riding a bike or doing the stair master at the gym or swimming a couple of days a week. Just remember to warm up slowly so the muscle has a chance to ease into the exercise and once you are done with your workout stretch out. Good stretching is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of cramps.

Dehydration. Even easier. Drink more water. Next!

In some cases the problem may be due to a dietary deficiency. According to the website cramps can be due to insufficient B1, B5 or B6. Other experts say lack of potassium, calcium or even magnesium can be the cause. These can readily be remedied through eating foods rich in these elements, or taking a multi-vitamin.

How do you know which one you are lacking? You don’t. You could go to the doctor and get an extremely expensive blood test to identify the problem, or take the multivitamin first and see if that works. Eat a banana a day as well. That’s got lots of potassium and has a myriad of other health benefits.

But what happens if after all this you are still getting these spasms on a regular basis and it’s disturbing not just your sleep but your partner’s too. Well, at that point it is probably a good idea to see your doctor. There are several diseases that cramps are a symptom of including something called intermittent claudication, which is due to poor circulation of blood to the legs.

There is a medication that can help treat cramps. It’s quinine, which acts by decreasing the excitability of the muscles. Unfortunately it’s also been shown to cause birth defects, miscarriages, blood clotting problems, nausea, vomiting, headaches and deafness. Oh, and sometimes it can cause problems with your heart and your vision. So, really, I’d much rather just hop around in pain thank you very much.

Most of the time it’s just a muscle that can’t relax. And with gas the price it is, the economy so uncertain and health care so expensive, it’s no wonder it’s stressing out!

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