Nutritional Remedies for Muscle Cramps
Muscle cramps are involuntary muscle contractions or spasms that cause severe pain. Although cramps are generally harmless, they can cause great discomfort and can disrupt one’s activities and disturb sleep. Muscle cramps are common, and anybody can experience them at some point in their lives. However, muscle cramps are more likely to affect older people, pregnant women, athletes, and people who have certain medical conditions.
The leg and foot muscles are most likely to be affected by cramps, but other muscles, such as those the hands, arms, abdomen, along the rib cage, and those in front and back of the thighs can also be affected.
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
The exact cause of muscle cramps is unclear, but there are several factors that can lead to muscle cramping. These include:
- Overexertion of muscles
- Insufficient stretching
- Muscle fatigue
- Exercising in the heat
- Hormonal changes (menstruation, pregnancy)
- Poor blood circulation
- Magnesium/potassium/calcium deficiency
- Vitamin deficiencies (thiamine, pantothenic acid, and pyridoxine)
- Nerve compression
- Aging, which leads to a decrease in muscle mass
- Certain diseases, such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, liver disease, kidney failure
- A side effect of certain drugs, such as diuretics (furosemide, hydrochlorothiazide), donepezil, (used to treat Alzheimer’s disease), nifedipine (an anti-hypertensive drug), and statins (anticholesterol drugs)
Natural Treatments for Muscle Cramps
Here are some tips on how to prevent and treat muscle cramps:
- If you experience a muscle cramp during activity, stop and try to stretch and massage the muscle.
- Get up slowly and try to walk around a bit.
- Extend your legs and pull your feet toward your knees. You can do this by grasping your toes tightly and pulling them toward your knees.
- Try shaking your legs vigorously to improve blood flow.
- To loosen tight muscles, gently massage using circular motions.
- Apply a heating pad or warm water bottles to help relax your muscles. Apply ice when the pain improves.
- Get a relaxing hot bath before bedtime to relax your leg muscles and make you sleep better. Add some mineral salts to the bath for best effects.
- Modify your workouts so that you avoid over exercising.
- Do stretching exercises to improve flexibility.
- While in bed, make sure that your sheets and blankets are not too tight to avoid causing your leg muscles to contract.
- Stretch your calf muscles before bedtime by standing away from the wall and tilting the body forward, with your hands holding the wall. Keep your heels flat and steady and hold this posture for about 5 minutes.
- Try acupressure treatments to ease leg cramps.
- Try swimming or water exercises develop supple leg muscles.
- Avoid using high heels and wear comfortable walking shoes.
- If your muscle is still sore, take pain medications (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs). Consult your doctor if these home remedies do not help improve your muscle cramps.
- Dehydration during sports activities is the most common cause of muscle cramps. Drink plenty of fluids before and during exercise. Drinking water can ease the cramping, but sometimes, water alone does not always help. Taking sports drinks can help replenish lost minerals.
- Increase your potassium intake by taking orange juice and eating bananas, cantaloupe, broccoli, and potatoes, which are good sources of potassium.
- Take a tablespoon of yellow mustard to quickly relieve leg cramp.
- Take mineral supplements containing potassium, sodium and magnesium.
- Take calcium lactate or calcium-gluconate, 200 to 300 mg, with a cup of milk. Make sure to take enough vitamins C and D, which help increase calcium absorption. Get enough morning sunlight for 15 to 30 minutes daily to increase vitamin D levels.
- Studies suggest that taking a combination of riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 supplements can help prevent muscle cramps. You can also obtain these from foods such as meat, liver, whole grains, and other foods.
- Take valerian tea, an herbal remedy often used as a natural relaxant and sedative. Talk to your doctor before taking valerian, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking other medications.
- Take horse chestnut, which is believed to treat poor blood flow in the legs. Consult your doctor before taking horse chestnut.
Nutritional Remedies for Muscle Cramps
If you have recurrent leg cramps, you must consult your doctor to find out if you have an underlying medical condition that is causing your symptoms. Proper evaluation and treatment of this condition may help improve your leg cramps and your overall health.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
MedicineNet. Muscle Cramps. http://www.medicinenet.com/muscle_cramps/article.htm
WebMD. Muscle Spasms, Cramps, and Charley Horse. http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/muscle-spasms-cramps-charley-horse
Health Guidance. Nocturnal Leg Cramps Treatment. http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/15660/1/Nocturnal-Leg-Cramps-Treatment.html