6 Ways to Avoid Muscle Cramps
Something as simple as heat or massage can strong-hand cramps into submission. Once the agony is over, it’s important to mount an anti-cramp campaign. Your body is probably yearning for potassium, magnesium, and calcium – the trio of minerals that helps regulate activity in your nerves and muscles. (You have potassium aplenty if you eat fruits and veggies, but you may be potassium poor if you’re on a high-protein diet.) You’ll also need to drink plenty of water and stretch your limits regularly.
1. Put the Heat On
Place an electric heating pad or a hot washcloth on the misbehaving muscle to relax the cramp and increase blood flow to the affected tissue. Set the pad on low, apply for 20 minutes, then remove it for at least 20 minutes before reapplying.
Take a long, warm shower, or soak in the bath. For added relief, pour in a half-cup Epsom salt. The magnesium in Epsom salt promotes muscle relaxation.
2. Press Out Pain
Find the epicentre of the cramp. Press into this spot with your thumb, the heel of your hand, or a loosely clenched fist. Hold the pressure for 10 seconds, ease up for 10 seconds, then press again. You’re doing it right if you feel some discomfort, but not excruciating pain. After a number of repetitions, the pain from the cramp should start to diminish.
3. Rub it in
Mix 1 part wintergreen oil with 4 parts vegetable oil, and massage it into the cramp. Wintergreen contains methyl salicylate (related to aspirin), which relieves pain and stimulates blood flow. You can use this mixture several times a day, but not with a heating pad – you could burn your skin.
4. Banish Nighttime Leg Cramps
Before bed, drink a glass of tonic water, which contains quinine, a popular remedy for leg cramps. Research has supported the use of quinine for nocturnal leg cramps, but don’t take quinine tablets; they can have serious side effects, such as ringing in the ears and disturbed vision. The FDA has banned the sale of the tablets.
To prevent nighttime calf cramps, try not to sleep with your toes pointed. And don’t tuck in your sheets too tightly – this tends to bend your toes downward, activating cramps.
Take 400 to 800 IU of vitamin E to prevent nocturnal leg cramps. Studies suggest that taking vitamin E improves blood flow through the arteries.
5. Mind Your Minerals
Low levels of minerals known as electrolytes – which include potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium – can contribute to cramps. You probably don’t need any more sodium in your diet, but you may need more of the others. Good food sources of magnesium are whole-grain breads and cereals, nuts, and beans. You can get potassium from most fruits and vegetables, especially bananas, oranges, and cantaloupes. And dairy foods supply calcium.
If you change your diet and you still get cramps, take 500 milligrams of calcium and 500 milligrams of magnesium twice a day, for a total of 1,000 milligrams of each supplement. Some people who get leg cramps due to a magnesium deficiency find fast relief from taking supplements. Don’t take magnesium without calcium; the two minerals work as a pair.
Taking a diuretic for high blood pressure? Your increased need to urinate may be robbing you of potassium. The result: a condition called hypokalemia, which can cause fatigue, muscle weakness, and muscle cramps.Ask your doctor if you can switch to a blood-pressure medication that isn’t a diuretic.
6. Drink Your Fill
Cramps are often caused by dehydration, so if you’re getting frequent cramps, drink more water.
If you tend to get cramps during exercise, drink at least 2 cups of water two hours before each workout. Then stop and drink 4 to 8 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during your exercise sessions. If you’re sweating a lot, consider a sports drink, such as Gatorade, that replaces lost sodium and other electrolytes.