As the summer sun scorches you with its full intensity, your muscles bear the brunt. If you perform strenuous physical activities in such weather conditions, it can more often than not, lead to muscle strain. Knowing the causes, treatment methods and ways to prevent it could help you cope with these painful episodes.
What is a Muscle Cramp?
Muscle cramp is a condition where your muscle contracts involuntarily and remains in that state for a prolonged period. If the contraction subsides soon it is known as a spasm. Spasms and cramps most commonly affect your calf muscles. Other skeletal muscles that provide support to your neck, head and back can also get cramped. Involuntary muscles that line the uterus, blood vessels and the bronchial tree could be affected by cramps as well.
Types and Causes of Muscle Cramps
There are 3 common types of muscle spasms. They are:
- True Cramps – This type of cramp affects either a part, a group, or the entire skeletal muscles. It is caused by:
- Hyperexcitability of the nerve (interruption of the electrical impulses being transmitted through your nerves)
- Injury or vigorous activity
- Deficiency of calcium, magnesium, and potassium in your blood
- Tetany – This is a condition that is most commonly caused by hypocalcemia, a disease which reduces the amount of calcium in your blood. This leads to painful muscle spasms throughout your body and is also accompanied by symptoms like vomiting, convulsions and seizures.
- Dystonia – This is an extremely rare condition where your muscles contract uncontrollably. The exact cause for this condition has not yet been established, but it is believed that it is initiated by a problem in your basal ganglia (the part of the brain responsible for starting muscle contractions). Such problems can be caused by a stroke, lack of oxygen, drug reaction, infection or even poisoning.
Treatment for Muscle Cramps
Muscle cramps can be treated in the following ways:
- Quick Fixes you can do at Home – Home remedies for muscle spasms include stretching and massaging your affected muscle and applying hot or cold compression. These could help in alleviating the pain and stiffness.
- Muscle Relaxants – Treatment for severe leg cramps can also be performed using certain muscle relaxant medications such as cyclobenzaprine, baclofen, and orphenadrine.
- Botox for cramp relief – Recent research suggests that Botox injections help in treating muscle disorders that may occur due to dystonia. This could provide relief from your condition for several months after which another injection could be administered.
Preventing Muscle Cramps
You can prevent the causes of severe leg cramps and spasms in the following ways :
Stretch it Out: Experts recommend stretching before and after your workout. Studies have found that stretching just for 15 minutes before a workout can significantly prevent injuries and improve performance.
Drink Up: Depending on the workout intensity, a person weighing, say, 80 kilograms should consume 0.5 liters every hour, 3-4 hours prior to exercise. In fact, fluid retention improves if your beverage contains a small dose of sodium.
Carb Yourself: Eat a carb-rich meal or snack before your workout. By providing the necessary glycogen to give you energy, Carbohydrates fuel your workout. However, muscle cramps set in if glycogen is available in finite amounts and they run out during workout. So, don’t be afraid to indulge in bananas, a fruit smoothie or even some chicken a few hours before training sessions.
If you have recurrent episodes of such muscle spasms and cramps, contact a doctor immediately as this can be an indication of more serious health issues like peripheral neuropathy, hypokalemia, hyponatremia and others. Take adequate measures to prevent muscle cramps from getting in the way of your fitness routine and daily life.