It is estimated that 60% of adults experience muscle cramps at one point or the other. The frequency increases with age, with women suffering more than men. Women are most affected by night cramps, while men are less frequently affected by night cramps!
What is a muscle cramp?
When your muscles contract involuntarily and are unable to relax, it leads to muscle cramps. This unintentional cramping of muscle or a group of muscles is called a muscle cramp. Muscle pain and spasms most likely target the lower portion of the body (lower back, legs, or feet). In particular, the hamstrings, calf muscles, and quadriceps are most likely to be affected. One of the most agonizing types of muscle cramps is the charley horse, which affects the calf muscles. Since it happens mainly at night and wakes you right up out of your sleep, it is also called night cramps.
Some people also experience cramps when they get out of bed in the morning or simply after exercising.
What causes muscle cramps?
Muscle spasms, leg cramps, or charley horses can become frequent as you get older. This is because the tissues that connect your muscles to the bones naturally shorten as you age. In the majority of cases, nearly 60% of the cramps occur at night. While muscle cramps cause intense pain, they are harmless. The good news is there are ways to minimize the frequency of night cramps (Charley horses). But, just about anyone can suffer from muscle cramps. This could happen due to several reasons. However, age is a predominantly dominating factor for muscle cramps.
Overworking muscles: Overuse of muscles or exercising without stretching and conditioning can result in muscle cramps. This is often common among those under the age of 50.
Diet low in nutrients: A diet low in nutrients can be an underlying cause of frequent cramps. Especially magnesium, a smooth muscle relaxant can help relax tight muscles by acting as a relaxant. Since it is a natural calcium blocker, it helps your muscles relax after contracting.
Poor electrolyte balance: Low levels of potassium, sodium, magnesium or calcium can contribute to muscle spasms.
Dehydration: Not consuming enough fluids and dehydration can also lead to muscle cramps
Medical conditions: Health conditions such as pregnancy, hypothyroidism, kidney failure, and taking medications like statins and certain blood pressure drugs can cause frequent spasms.
Certain medications: Taking certain medications such as diuretics, naproxen, statins, clonazepam, and albuterol can cause leg cramps as a side effect.
Alcoholism: Too much alcohol can dehydrate the body, which triggers leg cramps.
Improper posture: Sitting for long periods, standing or sitting on concrete floors or improper posture can cause cramps. Improper posture also includes exercising and walking with bad posture, incorrect shoe type, and shoe size.
How do muscle spasms develop?
Poor circulation: When muscles don’t receive enough blood supply due to poor circulation, they lack nutrients. The inability to receive enough oxygen, nutrients, and electrolytes is the primary reason for muscle weakness. When this happens in the farthest body parts from your heart such as lower extremities (calf muscle, toes, ankle) they are more prone to cramps and spasms.
Magnesium deficiency: If you are magnesium deficient you are more likely to end up with leg cramps than those with optimal magnesium levels. It has a direct effect on the relaxation of smooth muscles and as a natural calcium blocker, it helps your muscles to relax. Magnesium is a trace mineral that participates in over 300 biochemical reactions in your body. Magnesium is important to maintain blood sugar balance, improve blood circulation, lower depression, improve exercise performance, and promote anti-inflammatory effects.
Pinched or compressed nerve: A pinched or compressed nerve in your spine can trigger muscle spasms which become pronounced when you start moving or change positions suddenly. This is why it is important to maintain proper spine posture.
Now that we know some of the causes of muscle cramps let’s look at a few ways to prevent them.
Ways to prevent muscle cramps
Stretching exercises: Stretching exercises can improve your condition and reduce the frequency of muscle cramps. Stretching before going to bed, during the day, and before an intense physical activity can help condition your muscles. This is a crucial component of any exercise regimen. Stretching before and after an exercise also helps improve your endurance and ability to perform physical activity with fewer injuries.
Stay hydrated: Keeping up with water intake throughout the day can keep your muscles maintaining a healthy contraction and relaxation cycle. This also helps prevent all problems related to dehydration such as fatigue, heat exhaustion, intense thirst, and general body aches.
Avoid prolonged sitting: Prolonged sitting during the day can cause stiff muscles. Move around frequently and maintain a good posture during the daytime.
Use Epsom salt/foot bath: Epsom is naturally rich in magnesium, adding it to your warm bath or simply soaking your feet in a foot bath containing Epsom salt can help relax muscles.
Nutrient-rich diet: Choose to include plenty of mineral-rich foods in your diet. Magnesium-rich foods like dark greens, nuts, and seeds and taking high-quality supplements can help to cover any nutrient deficits.
If you are looking to improve your magnesium levels here are some products to consider,
Magnesium Glycinate by Pure Encapsulations: This product is best for those who have a sensitive stomach and need to take a magnesium supplement. The glycinate form is less likely to cause loose stool than other forms of magnesium. Pure Encapsulations offers Magnesium in the glycinate which is highly effective and well absorbed by the body. Proper magnesium balance supports muscular health along with improving energy levels, heart, and circulatory health. The supplement is gluten-free, vegan, and made with hypoallergenic ingredients. It is available in 90 counts, 180, and 360-count capsules. The product is also available in liquid form for those who don’t prefer capsules. The recommended dosage is 1-4 capsules along with meals or as recommended by your physician.
Tri-Magnesium by Integrative Therapeutics: This supplement is a unique blend of three forms of magnesium hence the name Tri-magnesium. The magnesium is available as citrate, Krebs cycle acid complex, and malate. The magnesium is combined with the Krebs cycle intermediates citrate and malate. One capsule gives 300 mg of elemental magnesium to support overall health. The suggested dosage is one capsule per day, and 300 mg of magnesium meets 71% of the daily value of magnesium. The presence of three forms of magnesium improves the bioavailability of the nutrient. The three types of magnesium forms are responsible for energy production within the cell and improve muscle and heart function. The supplement is available as 90-count vegetarian capsules. The product is gluten-free, dairy-free, and contains no wheat, corn, or soy.
Liquid Calcium-Magnesium 2:1 by Integrative Therapeutics: Liquid calcium-magnesium is a convenient alternative to swallowing large pills. The supplement provides calcium as 600 mg of calcium-magnesium citrate and magnesium as 300 mg of calcium-magnesium citrate and magnesium citrate. This ensures the delivery of calcium and magnesium in a 2:1 ratio. Another plus is that this formula also includes 400 IU of vitamin D in the form of cholecalciferol, which is the active form of vitamin D3. The formula is free of gluten, soy, and dairy and suitable for those with food sensitivities. The product is also devoid of artificial coloring and artificial flavoring and does not contain wheat or yeast. In addition, the liquid formulation is xylitol-free and does not contain vitamin K. The product is available in orange-vanilla flavor and comes in 16 fluid-ounce (480 ml) bottles. The liquid formulation is also available in a 1:1 calcium-magnesium ratio. The recommended dosage is one tablespoon (15 ml) per day for adults and children over 12 years of age. Shake well before use and use the suggested dosage or as recommended by your provider.
Magnesium Buffered Chelate by Designs for Health: A highly absorbable form of magnesium in a convenient dosage of two capsules per day. Designs for Health Magnesium Buffered Chelate contains highly absorbable magnesium. Since the magnesium is in the buffered chelate form, it is less likely to cause gastrointestinal symptoms that are common when taking conventional supplements. Each capsule provides 150 mg of elemental magnesium in a very stable chelate form via a patented technology. The recommended dosage is two capsules per day or as directed by the physician. The supplement is available in 120 and 240 vegetarian capsules.
It is essential to bear in mind that medical history should also be considered when addressing muscle cramps. While some muscle cramps can be managed with the above remedies, some medical-related ones need a different approach, and you will have to work with your physician to address the problem. Maintaining electrolyte balance, making up for magnesium deficiency, and staying hydrated may not work for those suffering from complicated conditions such as motor neurone disease.