Cramps can be extremely painful and can disable your body from carrying on with normal day to day functions for a period of time. Cramps are a muscular contraction that can quite suddenly cause a part of your body to seize up and to have its movement severely limited. The causes and triggers of cramps vary, but there are steps you can take to help relieve the discomfort, no matter the specific cause or area of your body where the cramping has arisen.
Causes of Cramps
Physical activity and exercise
Though physical activity and exercise are great things, they can sometimes cause cramps if the body is pushed too hard or if the muscles are not warmed up enough. Cramps can come when the body is too tense or if it is pushed or pulled slightly out of its normal range and the muscles are cold. Remember to warm up, even with a light walk, before you take part in any sports or exercise. The body needs to know that it is about to be used and the muscles need to be warm.
This is also a cause of cramping. It’s vital that water reaches your muscles. The body has to feel sufficiently hydrated. Given that most cramping comes when you are exercising, it is even more important that you are well hydrated, as you are expending energy, often sweating, and will need to keep your body with a reasonable fluid intake as you workout or play. The cramping is exacerbated when your body has insufficient levels of electrolytes, so make sure to be drinking fluids sensibly.
Poor nutrition can be a major contributor to cramps. This is because a bad diet does not provide the right levels of vitamins and minerals, and a bad diet is almost always high in sugars and salts too, which causes dehydration. Without nutrient-dense foods, your body will cramp more regularly.
It might seem counterintuitive, since compression can often help with muscle pain, but in fact wearing tight clothing can cause cramps to worsen. Especially when it comes to period cramps, tight clothing can constrict circulation, leading to cramping of greater intensity. To minimize the risks of cramps, avoid wearing anything too tight around areas of your body where you are prone to cramps.
Cramping and stress can be bedfellows because of the fact that stress causes muscles to tense up, leading to cramping and pain. Stress also interferes with hormone balance, and can lead to electrolyte imbalances that can trigger muscle cramps. Below, we look at ways to alleviate stress, which is something that has all round health benefits. Check elsewhere on Healthnile for our other articles on how to control and limit your stress.
Cold and wet weather
The body does not always like extreme conditions and many people suffer from worse cramps during cold and wet weather conditions. The body can seize up when it is too cold, so even simple things like wearing socks to bed or two pairs of socks during the day can have a positive impact on your leg temperature, for example. Check that if you are cramping more often it is not to do with the temperature around you at the time. You may find that it is more about the outside conditions than anything wrong with your body.
If you are experiencing menstrual cramps, hormonal imbalances can play a large part in them. Factors such as stress, poor diet, and sometimes genetics can contribute to this imbalance.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress can all make a difference. There are also medications and other treatments available from your doctor if the problem persists. Check out our Healthnile guide on How To Stop Period Cramps for further information.
Home Remedies To Relieve Cramps
Drink plenty of fluids
What you drink makes a big difference both to whether you will cramp up, and also to the duration of any cramps. Hydrate well and you make it less likely that your body will be stressed and overstretched. If possible, aim for a good balance of cold and warm drinks, and, if you exercise, pay attention to drinking a sports drink to replace electrolytes. But having said that, really the critical thing is to drink well, regardless of the heat or specific sports related content of what you’re glugging down. In fact, water is the ultimate, perhaps with a bit of lemon, but fruit teas, mint teas, camomile teas, and many kinds of herbal or fruit infusions can also be drunk at ease if you are suffering from cramps. Turmeric, too, is a useful ingredient to have in your repertoire of supportive beverages, as it is anti-inflammatory, and will help your body relax and the cramp dissipate.
Take a warm bath or shower and use the power of heat
Heat can often be a healer when it comes to cramps. If you are at home, use a hot water bottle or heating pad and apply it directly to the area of cramping. If you suffer from cramps regularly, keep a heat pad at work too. In addition, taking a warm bath or sauna can be highly beneficial, as can a steam session at the gym. Put Epsom salts into a warm bath and you will almost certainly notice a difference in your muscles. If you have had a hard training session, make sure you are regularly using the sauna, steam, hot tub, or even the cold equivalents – a frigidarium or ice bath – if they are available. (It may not be as pleasant, but cold can prevent muscles from cramping later on!)
In terms of good hot drinks, try adding ginger, lemon, honey and turmeric to a drink, as they are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties. These hot drinks can have a similar effect to applied heat, as they can reduce tension and feelings of swelling.
Massage the affected area
As with heat, so with massage. The light warm pressure that massaging brings enables the tension in the body to be diluted. Start with light strokes towards the center of the affected area, and then gradually apply pressure, as you judge wise, and see how your body feels. You can also use a warm compress or heating pad if that assists. Some people prefer to use a bit of heat from a warm compress prior to the massage, as it helps to loosen up the skin and make it receptive to the massage itself.
Stretch the area
There is no question that stretching lessens the chance of cramping and also helps when a cramp arrives. The body needs to be gently eased into stretch positions and then pushed a little to a point of tension to ensure that muscles remain flexible and are warmed up. Stretches can help improve circulation, reduce muscle tension, and provide relief from cramping, even quite severe cramps. They are both a natural preventive and also an inbuilt cure. They also help strengthen your muscles, which can lead to fewer cramps over time.
Apply a cold compress
As with using cold baths after strenuous exercise, applying a cold compress to the affected area can help to relieve the pain from cramps. This is because the cold temperature constricts the muscles and reduces inflammation. Wrapping a cold cloth or ice pack in a thin towel, then applying it to the cramps for 15-20 minutes, can help to reduce the pain associated with cramps. Be careful, however, not to keep the compress on too long, or the skin may be traumatized by the excessive cold.
Avoid strenuous activities
We need to exercise, but we should avoid undue strain. Be careful when you are working out not to go too hard at it. Stay in control of what you are doing and do not be too strenuous. Be aware of the impact on your muscles of what you are doing, and make sure any routines you are following that are pushing hard are after an extensive warm-up. It’s a cliché, but a useful one: ‘listen to your body’.
Take an over-the-counter pain reliever
Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are two of the most popular choices for OTC pain relief. Both can help to reduce the discomfort and swelling caused by cramps. Though some dislike taking any medication, don’t be afraid to take these anti-inflammatory drugs. They have a very high success rate and are a very simple way to ease your stress. Naproxen is another good drug to take, but make sure to take these drugs after food, as they may make you feel a bit nauseous if taken on an empty stomach. Also ensure you follow the right dosage and, if you have any doubts, follow the pharmacist’s advice. Remember that these are drugs and need to be respected, even though they are extremely safe if taken in the right dose.
Try acupuncture or acupressure
These two approaches are age-old practices that have been used for centuries to treat a wide range of medical issues, including relieving muscle tension and cramps. Acupuncture works by using very small needles to stimulate certain points in the body. Acupressure is a similar technique but, instead of needles, the practitioner applies pressure to certain points to relieve tension. Both of these treatments have been known to have positive effects on cramps, and for many people they are the go-to method for treating any stress or strains in the body. Obviously they need to be carried out by a professional.
Lifestyle Changes To Help Prevent Cramps
Increase your daily water intake
Increase your water intake and you lower your susceptibility to cramping! It’s clear. Aim for around 6-8 glasses of water a day, or roughly 1.5 liters a day. In addition, avoid fizzy and sugary drinks, which can actually make cramps worse.
Eat healthier foods
Diet makes such a difference. Eating well unquestionably has a positive impact on how your body copes with cramping.
If you focus on enjoying a variety of nutrient-rich foods, such as lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, with plenty of healthy fats too, your body will respond and you will almost certainly cramp less often and less painfully. The operations of your body become easier, as it is not having to work so hard to generate its own health. Good foods provide minerals, vitamins, and nutrition in ways that mean that, when the body is exercising or simply going though its day, you have the resources to deal with any stresses that arise.
A good diet also helps regulate your hormones, which can help lessen cramps too, so do pay attention to what you are eating. Over time, it will make a major difference.
Eat foods rich in magnesium and calcium
Along with the overall benefits of a good diet, rich in nutrients, research has shown that magnesium and calcium can help relax your muscles, reduce inflammation, and alleviate pain.
Both of these minerals have the ability in our bodies to act almost as natural painkillers and they can directly affect the way our bodies deal with cramping. If you exercise a lot, you really need to pay attention to your intake of these minerals.
Excellent sources of magnesium and calcium are dark leafy greens, dairy products, and some fish and nuts, such as almonds.
Wear loose clothing
Tight clothing can restrict the blood flow necessary to relax your muscles and calm cramping, so pay attention to how you are dressed. Of course, sometimes in exercise you have to wear tighter gear, but if it is just normal daily life and you are feeling stiff or sore, try to avoid tight clothes. Loose clothing allows your muscles to breathe and relax without any constriction.
In addition, opt for materials like cotton or moisture-wicking fabrics that help to keep your skin cool and dry. This also aids in muscle relaxation.
Incorporate stretching into your daily routine
Stretching really matters. It is not to be thought of as an excessive precaution. It is essential. Even at home, stretch. Find little gaps when you would otherwise be doing nothing – like waiting for the kettle to boil – and just do a bit of light stretching of the legs and arms. It really will make a quite incredible difference over time.
If you train hard at the gym, you must absolutely not forget to build rigorous stretching into your gym life.
Exercise is an all round good thing. Though we sometimes get cramps during sports, exercise is, overall, a cramp-reducer. There is significant evidence that regular, low intensity exercise can make a huge difference when it comes to managing how susceptible your body is to cramps. Even something as simple as a brisk walk, a light jog, or a gentle yoga session can all help to ease cramping and pain. If you are able to exercise more extensively, then that is also good, but to make an impact on how often or how severely you suffer from cramps, you do not need to exercise unduly hard.
Practice relaxation techniques, such as yoga
It is essential to respect the body and to do what you can to find some space in your life for a stretching and relaxing spell of yoga, or some associated physical approach to relaxing the body. Yoga poses and stretching help to release tension in the muscles and reduce cramping. It also helps to improve circulation and provides relief from discomfort. In addition, deep breathing exercises and meditation can help to relax the mind and body, which in turn can reduce the intensity of any cramps you might still occasionally experience.
Monitor stress levels
We are all susceptible to stress. It is a natural part of life. But we definitely need to make sure it does not become excessive. Some common signs of stress include difficulty sleeping, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, and fatigue. Keeping track of your stress levels is important. A stressed body is much more likely to cramp up.
Exercising regularly, meditating, getting adequate rest, and keeping your social life rolling along nicely with friends, makes a huge difference.
Regularly get plenty of rest and sleep well
Ensuring effective and sufficient sleep is one of the best things you can do to help alleviate cramps and make your muscles less likely to seize up. Try to ensure a regular nighttime routine, so that the body gets into a natural rhythm when it comes to rest. Not only will this help you fall asleep easier, it will also help you ensure a more restful, restorative sleep.
Avoid drinking caffeine much after 2.00 p.m. as it takes over 8 hours for the effects of caffeine drinks to leave the body. Make sure, too, to avoid screen time as you hit the mattress. The body is agitated by the light from laptops and mobiles, so make sure to give the eyes and mind a pause before you bed down. It may not seem like there is a connection between watching telly in bed and suffering from cramps, but due to the way sleep impacts on so many aspects of our bodies, there really might be!