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Dealing With Muscle Cramps

By Paul Rothbart

They strike like ninjas, popping up seemingly from nowhere. Suddenly, you are in intense pain. You may feel helpless and more than a few panic. They can hit you after exercise, when standing, sitting, or even when you are sound asleep. Muscle cramps are painful and unpredictable. They usually don't last but even in their brief lifetimes, they can cause considerable anguish. Sometimes you have to deal with muscle cramps and they can be managed.

Causes of Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps strike with a sudden spasm or contraction of a muscle that is involuntary and very painful. They often happen after exercise or in the middle of the night during sleep. Though you can have a cramp in any muscle, they most often happen in the legs, feet, hands, or abdomen. They can last just seconds or several minutes. 

There are several causes of muscle cramps. One of them is dehydration or insufficient levels of electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, or calcium. Pushing a muscle too hard and taxing or straining it will often cause it to cramp. Compressed nerves, often in the spine area can also bring on a cramp. 

Treating a Muscle Cramps

Cramps generally don't require medical attention but there are ways that you can treat them yourself. Applying heat to a tight, cramped muscle can help it loosen up. Once it does, applying ice can take away soreness. Gently massaging or stretching a cramped muscle can also be an effective treatment. If you are dehydrated, drink water immediately. 

If you have frequent cramps, they last for long periods and don't respond to self-treatment, you may have a serious medical problem. The same is true if stretching and hydrating don't help. In these cases, you should see a doctor to determine the cause of your cramps and how to treat them.

Preventing Muscle Cramps

To prevent muscle cramps, the first step is to stay well hydrated. Drinking 64 ounces of water throughout each day is recommended. Drink more on hot days or when training and sweating excessively. Sports drinks can be helpful in getting enough electrolytes. Read labels as many are loaded with sugar. Vitamin supplements can be good ways to get your electrolytes as is eating foods that contain them. Stretching before and after exercise can also be preventative. If you often get cramps while sleeping, try stretching before bed.

Muscle cramps, though not usually serious, are nevertheless painful. Taking the right steps can help prevent them. Knowing how to treat them can relieve the pain quickly.

To learn more about your health, wellness and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in El Cajon, Calif.

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