At some point in time, just about everyone experiences the short lived, but excruciating, pain of a muscle spasm — a sudden involuntary muscle contraction often referred to as a charley horse. Muscle spasms, which frequently come without warning while exercising, resting or sleeping, often occur in the arch of the foot or the calf, quadricep, or hamstring muscles. The spasm may last from just a few seconds to an agonizing fifteen minutes and, less commonly, even longer. When the pain is intense, it can seem like an eternity until the forcibly contracted muscle resolves itself, just as spontaneously as it occurred. It’s not uncommon for a spasm to recur several times before it finally abates and, frequently, the aftermath may be discomfort or sore muscles for a day or two. While muscle spasms can happen to anyone, pregnant women and seniors are the most susceptible to recurring muscle cramping.
Although science has yet to determine an exact cause, underlying or known medical conditions, dehydration, overexertion, muscle fatigue and electrolyte imbalances are believed to be contributing factors. An occasional charley horse is common, however, frequent recurring muscle spasms may require a medical diagnosis. As with other health concerns, prevention measures may be the best approach for reducing the chances of developing cramps and muscle spasms.
- Physical exertion – Strenuous activity, failure to adequately warm up before exercising, and overworked, fatigued muscles can frequently result in cramping, sometimes many hours later. To help prevent regular occurrence of spasms, exercise while well hydrated at a proper level for you and, when temperatures are high, consider avoiding outdoor exercise.
- Dehydration – Excessive fluid loss from perspiration during sports or vigorous exercise increases the likelihood of developing cramps. Sodium loss as a result of excessive sweating and insufficient, irregular fluid intake are likely causes of dehydration.
- Medications – Many medications, including those designed to control blood pressure, lower cholesterol or treat Parkinson’s disease, can also contribute to cramping. Diuretics may induce cramping by depleting body fluids along with sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
- Low blood levels of calcium and magnesium – Cramping often occurs when calcium and magnesium levels, critical to muscle function, are inadequate. Commonly found in pregnant women and older adults, calcium and magnesium deficiencies, whether caused by inadequate intake, medications, morning sickness, or poor absorption due to vitamin D deficiency, can directly impact the excitability of nerve endings in the muscles they help stimulate.
- Low potassium – Low potassium levels are commonly associated with muscle weakness but may cause cramping as well. Potassium is an electrolyte that helps regulate nerve and muscle function, hydration, blood pH and blood pressure. Imbalanced electrolytes can lead to either muscle weakness or severe muscle contractions.
- Nocturnal night cramps – Staying in one position, where a muscle is contracted for an extended period of time, is often cited as a cause of spasms that occur while resting. Daily stretching, adequate hydration and keeping bed linens unrestrictive may help to prevent night time cramps.
When muscle spasms do occur, massaging and stretching the muscle are often effective strategies to minimize discomfort and relieve the cramp more quickly or, at the very least, give you something helpful to do while you wait for the muscle to relax. An Epsom salt bath, replenishing fluids and icing the muscle may help to relieve any residual soreness.
To reduce the risk of developing muscle spasms and cramps, stay well hydrated before, during and after exercise. Increase your flexibility by warming up and stretching properly before and after physical activity and remember to work out in accordance with your own fitness level. Routine daily stretching of the calf, the quadriceps and the hamstring muscles may help minimize cramping. Eat a well balanced and nutritious diet, address electrolyte imbalances and make sure you are getting adequate amounts of all essential vitamins and minerals daily.
The following high quality formulas are specifically designed to relieve occasional muscle tension and cramping:
Muscle Cramp/Tension Formula by Pure Encapsulations – This carefully designed formula offers important electrolytes, soothing herbs and vitamin C to help relieve occasional nighttime leg muscle cramps, overall muscle tension and minor muscle cramps related to physical activity. Gluten and soy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation
Baxaprin™ by Designs for Health – This calming formula contains vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, potassium and botanicals designed to help relieve occasional muscle tension and cramping related to muscular stress or overuse. Gluten free, vegetarian formulation.
Muscle-Aid by BioGenesis Nutraceuticals – This combination formula of mineral amino acid chelates and vitamins is designed to help control muscle spasms and alleviate cramping, while optimizing energy and providing cardiovascular health support. Natural orange flavored powdered formula easily mixes with food or beverage of choice.
Spaz Out® by Metabolic Maintenance – An excellent choice for the physically active, this well-balanced formula is designed to replenish the mineral electrolytes typically found to be deficient in those with muscle cramping. Vegetarian formula.