Muscle Cramp Symptoms
Most muscle cramps (sudden sharp and lasting pains) develop in the leg muscles, particularly in the calf. The unlucky victim may also feel or see a hard lump beneath the skin. It is a “seizing” or “bunching” of muscle tissue, and it doesn’t happen only to athletes. Furthermore, I usually get cramps in my feet and toes. Some people get spasms in their backs. IT HURTS!!!! Consequently, I explored why we get cramps and what to do about them. Then, I thought I might as well share the wealth of information with you!
Below, we’ll explore a few causes and solutions, based largely on publications by the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School, and Healthline. As usual, I’m sharing food images, especially for people for whom English is not a first language or who have dyslexia or other impediments to reading easily.
Important: the content on this site should never be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.
Why Do Cramps Happen and How Can We Prevent or Stop Them?!
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Long periods of exercise or physical labor, particularly in hot weather, can lead to muscle cramps. Some medications and certain medical conditions also may cause muscle cramps.” (See a Healthline list below that mentions some medications which may be of interest.)
Another common problem is cramping in the feet, which may be so severe it causes the toes to contract or “bunch together.” This frequently happens after wearing tight or high-heeled shoes for hours. In my experience, it occurs most often after the shoes are taken off or at night during sleep time.
Madhuri Kale is a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She reports that some people experience foot or toe cramping when their feet are uncovered by blankets while sleeping, and being cold seems to be the culprit. Conversely, I almost always get extreme toe cramping when blankets are covering the toes, especially if the blankets were “tucked in” as is done in many hospitals (and by many parents).
The Mayo Clinic Lists More Causes
credit also to Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.
Overuse of a muscle, dehydration, muscle strain or simply holding a position for a prolonged period can cause a muscle cramp. In many cases, however, the cause isn’t known.
Although most muscle cramps are harmless, some may be related to an underlying medical condition, such as:
Inadequate blood supply. Narrowing of the arteries that deliver blood to your legs (arteriosclerosis of the extremities) can produce cramp-like pain in your legs and feet while you’re exercising. These cramps usually go away soon after you stop exercising.
Nerve compression. Compression of nerves in your spine (lumbar stenosis) also can produce cramp-like pain in your legs. The pain usually worsens the longer you walk. Walking in a slightly flexed position — such as you would use when pushing a shopping cart ahead of you — may improve or delay the onset of your symptoms.
Mineral depletion. Too little potassium, calcium or magnesium in your diet can contribute to leg cramps. Diuretics — medications often prescribed for high blood pressure — also can deplete these minerals.
Another contributor to muscle contraction is a buildup of lactic acid (which can happen if you don’t rest your muscle after it has exercised a lot). These issues are especially common during or after exercises that involve a lot of leg movement, such as running (in various kinds of sports or running as in jogging or marathons), weight training with legs, etc.
Healthline Lists Medical Condition Contributors
“Pregnancy, as well as certain medical conditions, can also increase your risk of experiencing leg cramps.
See your doctor if you’re pregnant or have any of these conditions and are experiencing more leg cramps than usual:
Pharmaceutical Side Effects
HealthLine mentions the following classes of medications that might contribute to leg cramps.
albuterol, an asthma medication
Also according to Healthline, deficiencies in potassium and calcium also may contribute to muscle cramping. First, we’ll talk about Things To Do In Addition to Ensuring Adequate Magnesium Intake. Then we’ll talk about sources of magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Happily, some foods contain large amounts of all three.
- Keep hydrated by drinking lots of water (not carbonated, caffeine, or sugary drinks of any kind).
- Warm up before doing physical exercise and don’t exercise for at least 30 minutes after eating
- Ride a stationary bicycle for a few minutes before bedtime.
- Do gentle stretching exercises, releasing tension as best you can, while elongating the muscles
- Do yoga posts, such as “Child’s Pose,”
- Follow the advice of an expert. Physical Therapist Kale’s shortcut for nighttime leg cramps in the calf is to sit up in bed and loop the blanket around your foot. Then, gently pull your toes toward you while you keep the knee straight.” I would add this can be done even more easily with a yoga strap that you could keep at your bedside.
- Stand up and put your weight on your toes for cramps in the front of the lower leg, Then, lift your heels and stay in that position for a few moments to gently stretch the cramped muscle. (This advice is from Ms. Kale also.)
- Lower your intake of food that contains caffeine, such as chocolate.
- Increase your calcium and potassium intake naturally by drinking milk and orange juice and eating bananas.
Now, let’s consider low magnesium levels in the body.
Low Magnesium Can Be A Cramps Culprit!
According to Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School medical experts, low magnesium is a major cause of muscle cramps everywhere in the body, including legs and feet.
“In fact, 78% of Americans have a severe lack of magnesium (4). This is a big problem — because magnesium is a necessary nutrient vital for health. Your body needs magnesium to stop pain, swelling, tension and inflammation. Studies show that by fixing a magnesium deficiency, it is possible to end muscle cramps and stop them from ever coming back. And unfortunately, no prescription medication can fix low magnesium. (All Scientific References)
How Does Magnesium Work to Stop Cramps?
Magnesium is critical in supporting muscle and nerve function plus energy production. Again, the Mayo Clinic teaches us that:
“As we age, excess calcium can get stuck in the muscles, causing them to cramp. We compound that issue if we get too much Vitamin D by taking supplements.
The mineral, magnesium can help with the calcium issue, while increasing the absorption of potassium….
Magnesium helps relax blood vessels, decrease blood pressure, and reduce inflammation.
Increase the absorption of potassium, which is critical for proper muscle function.
Decrease pain by blocking pain receptors in the brain and nervous system.
Increases your serotonin, GABA and melatonin, which helps you relax and fall asleep.”
Best Natural Sources of Magnesium
For details, Click Here. Below is an excerpt from the linked article, which informs us that many Americans get insufficient magnesium through food, but just a few servings of magnesium-rich foods may be all that is needed.
One ounce of almonds contains 20% of the daily magnesium an adult needs.
avocados (they also have lots of potassium and are one of the best health foods)
Legumes. Black beans (boiled): 1/2 cup = 60 milligrams of magnesium (15% RDA).
Edamame (cooked, prepared): 1/2 cup = 50 milligrams of magnesium (12% RDA).
Lima beans (cooked): 1/2 cup = 40 milligrams of magnesium (10% RDA).Aug 10, 2020
leafy vegetables – some, like Swiss Chard and spinach, also are loaded with potassium
Milk also contains high levels of potassium and calcium which may be beneficial in preventing cramps.
fish: salmon, mackerel, and halibut
Even water (tap, mineral, or bottled) can provide magnesium
Sources of Helpful Potassium / Calcium
Bananas also contain high levels of potassium, which may be beneficial in preventing cramps.
Orange juice does not contain a lot of magnesium or calcium, but it is high in potassium, which is helpful in preventing cramping.
Fruits that are high in calcium include prickly pears, tangerines, oranges, kiwifruit, mulberries, blackberries, guavas, papaya, and passion fruit.
Click Here to see Healthline’s list of the best foods for you to take to get Potassium in your diet. In summary, it says,
“Although bananas are a good source of potassium, many other nutritious foods, including sweet potatoes, legumes, and beets, offer more potassium per serving. Swiss chard, yams, and white beans even have twice as much potassium per cup as a medium banana.
The key to getting enough potassium is to eat a range of plant foods each day. Certain fish, such as salmon, tuna, and cod, are good animal-based sources of this mineral too.”
Additional Sources of Magnesium
Some laxatives and antacids also contain magnesium.
Supplements are available in tablet or get forms
Note: high doses of magnesium from supplements or medications can cause nausea and abdominal cramping. Always ask your doctor or pharmacist about these issues in advance if you’re considering taking magnesium supplements, especially if you routinely use magnesium-containing antacids or laxatives.
The Mayo Clinic reports that “low magnesium levels usually don’t cause symptoms. However, chronically low levels can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.”
Neither I nor this blog purports to give medical advice. The contents are for information only with links to authoritative medical resources for further exploration. Always consult with your doctor or qualified health care practitioner about symptoms, needs, and suggestions for treatments.
I hope this information is helpful and that you will share it with whomever you know who might need help with the symptoms of cramping muscles.
Let’s Get Well, Stay Well, and Live Well!