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Charlie doesn't want any horses: what to do when a muscle cramp attacks


Last updated 1/7/2019 at 12:01pm

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Prevention of cramps includes staying hydrated, stretching properly and making sure to eat healthy foods with adequate nutrients.

Megan Johnson McCullough

Special to the Village News

When a muscle suddenly becomes hard and tight or there's a quick sharp pain felt in the calf, a muscle cramp has struck. It can happen while in motion, when out for a run or even during a night's sleep. This type of involuntary contraction is a spasm people would rather forgo.

Without warning, the onset of a "Charley horse," or a cramp that occurs in the calf area, is marked by temporary pain from which people want instant relief. Cramps are never fun to endure and the only thing to do is breathe through it, stretch and massage out the area until it passes.

There are a number of triggers for muscle cramps. To avoid future spasms, knowing the causes becomes important. A cramp can be the result of poor blood circulation. Exercise-related stress can bring on a cramp. Being dehydrated or deficient in magnesium or potassium can be causes. Hot temperature is also a culprit, especially when being active. Not stretching enough can also lead to cramping.

There are also medications that can lead to cramping. These include diuretics, certain Alzheimer's medications, statin medications for cholesterol, as well as some osteoporosis and high blood pressure medications. Nerve compression can also cause a pinch that produces a cramp.

Muscle mass lessens with age so muscles that are working may be more stressed than normal and overworked much more easily. Muscle cramps are common during pregnancy as the body undergoes many changes.

Certain medical conditions like diabetes, liver or thyroid disorder can also heighten the risks of cramping. Excessive sweating causes fluid loss that needs to be replenished. Sitting in saunas for too long can cause cramping due to dehydration as well.

Crap prevention includes staying hydrated, stretching properly and making sure to eat healthy foods with adequate nutrients. These include vitamins, minerals, potassium and calcium. Potassium is found in many foods, including vegetables like spinach, kale, beans and lentils, bananas, dates, raisons, coconut, avocado, berries, potatoes, tomatoes, melon, citrus, meat, fish and milk. Foods high in potassium are also high in electrolytes.

Electrolytes are needed to maintain sodium and potassium balance in the body by regulating how much fluid is retained and flushed out. Cells need electrolytes to send messages through electrical impulses throughout the body. Caffeine found in coffee, soda and other beverages does affect fluid hydration in the body so be sure to replenish with water.

Exercise and activity that lasts over 60 minutes can lead to glycogen depletion which can lead to fatigue which can lead to cramps. There are also electrolyte tablets that can added to water to help maintain electrolyte balance. Many endurance athletes utilize this option.

Although only a temporary sensation and typically harmless, an unexpected bout of pain is never welcome. It is important to seek a doctor's help if these cramps are recurrent or persistent. A nutrient imbalance may not be readily noticeable, but finding the cause can help avoid future incidences.

Megan Johnson McCullough owns the fitness studio Every Body's Fit in Oceanside. She's a National Academy of Sports Medicine master trainer and instructor, professional natural bodybuilder, fitness nutrition specialist, corrective exercise specialist, lifestyle and weight management specialist, member of Men's Health Fitness Council, Wellness Coach, Women's Health Magazine Action Hero and candidate for a doctorate. She loves to spread her passion for health and wellness. Her mission is to help everybody become the best version of themselves.


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