Leg Cramps: 6 Surprising Reasons Why We Can Get Leg Muscle Cramping by Dr. Vikki Petersen
How many times have you had a charley horse (leg cramp) at the worst possible time? They can be absolutely the worst, but why do they occur in the first place?
A muscle cramp, or charley horse, is an involuntary contraction of a muscle that can be sudden and painful. It can last from a few seconds to several minutes. Often muscle cramps occur during rest and can awaken you due to the pain and spasming of the muscle affected, often in your legs or feet. Muscle cramps can affect many but most commonly are seen in athletes, those who are obese, infants, pregnant women and the elderly.
Here are six reasons why you might be experiencing frequent leg cramps:
- Dehydration or low water intake. Insufficient water will cause your muscles to cramp. Whether it is due to exercise, environmental heat or simply failure to consume adequate fluids, muscle cramps can be the result. The solution is to drink a minimum of eight glasses (8 ounces each) of purified water throughout the day. Try not to exceed 1 cup per hour and stop water two to three hours before bed to avoid unnecessary bathroom visits during the night.
- Tight muscles. Failing to be active or stretch after you walk or work out can cause your muscles to cramp. Getting some form of moderate exercise for at least 30 to 40 minutes per day will assist with this. Similarly, you must stretch after exercising. You will gain more benefit from the effort you just put in to strengthen your muscles while avoiding annoying muscle cramps.
- Depleted electrolytes including potassium and calcium. In order for your muscles to smoothly contract, a balance of potassium and calcium in your blood must exist. If you have lost normal levels of these minerals, muscle spasms can result. On a daily basis, consuming seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables should help to keep your mineral levels balanced. For hot days or when working out excessively you can supplement with no sugar electrolyte packs.
- Low-sodium levels. We tend to vilify salt, believing it will cause high blood pressure and heart disease. While it is absolutely true that salt sensitive individuals will have their blood pressure affected, there are plenty of people (the majority) that are not negatively affected by salt. And, in fact, a very low sodium diet can be dangerous for these individuals. Not only can low sodium cause painful muscle spasms but it leads to an increase of stress hormones and a higher mortality rate.
- Aging. With age can come decreased muscle mass, which can lead to muscle cramps. It is very important to ensure that once you reach age 60 and above you are exercising regularly and consuming adequate amounts of healthy (mostly plant-based) protein. These measures will help to protect your muscle mass.
- Low thyroid. If you suffer from muscle cramps ensure your thyroid has been checked and that it is functioning optimally. Get advice from a functional medicine or alternative medicine practitioner ideally because we work to maintain ideal, optimal functioning of this very important gland.
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