- A sudden, involuntary, painful spasm (or tightening) of a muscle.
- Muscle twitching.
- Cramps generally resolve by themselves after a few moments.
- In some cases, cramps may be indicative of underlying disease. Consult your doctor if you experience cramps frequently, if your symptoms are severe, or if the cramps take longer than a few minutes to disappear.
Although the reason that cramps occur is not fully understood, a number of risk factors have been identified. These include:
- Imbalance of the minerals (electrolytes) involved in muscle contraction and relaxation, including magnesium, potassium, calcium and sodium. This may occur due to dietary inadequacy, but may also be a consequence of the fluid losses that occur during vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration and excessive sweating.
- Being in poor physical health.
- Having tight or inflexible muscles, or poor muscle tone.
- Muscle injury or fatigue.
- Wearing high-heeled shoes for long periods of time.
- Magnesium helps all the muscles of the body to function optimally and to contract in a normal, healthy way. It is also important for exercise performance . Taking a magnesium supplement* may help prevent muscular cramps and spasms and aid in the management of leg cramps that occur during the night.
*Magnesium may only be of assistance when dietary intake is inadequate
Diet and lifestyle
- During a cramp, lengthen the muscle by gently stretching it. Follow this by rubbing or massaging the affected muscle, but again, be gentle. Apply an ice pack if necessary.
- Stretching before and after exercise is important. Yoga classes are a great way to improve your flexibility and stretch out your muscles, and regular massage can aid muscle relaxation.
- Make sure you warm up and cool down before you exercise.
- Maintain adequate fluid intake. Aim for at least two litres of water every day, with additional water before, during and after exercise sessions.
- If you’re prone to excessive perspiration, or if you train for extended periods or in hot temperatures, it may be appropriate to take an electrolyte replacement drink to rehydrate the body and quickly replace minerals lost in the sweat.
- Eat a well-balanced diet that contains large quantities and a wide variety of fruit and vegetables.
- Avoid wearing high heels or shoes that don’t fit comfortably.
- Seek medical advice if you experience frequent, severe, or extended cramping, or if you are concerned that your prescribed medicine may be causing or contributing to your cramps. You may need to switch to a different medication.
- If you experience cramping pain in the chest that radiates to the shoulder, arm or neck, it’s possible you are having a heart attack. Call for an ambulance immediately, as it’s better to be safe than sorry.