6 things that might be causing muscle cramps

Although the most common cause is physical overexertion and a lack of electrolytes, if your cramps are frequent, you should see a doctor.
6 things that might be causing muscle cramps

Last update: 14 April, 2018

Cramps are involuntary contractions of one or more muscles. The pain can range from very mild to very intense, and they usually last several minutes at a time. One primary characteristic is that they inhibit the muscle from relaxing at that moment in time, which makes them rigid and tense.

Generally, they affect the lower parts of the body, like the lower leg or thigh, but sometimes they affect the hands, arms, and other parts of the body. Even though they’re not serious and normally just sporadic, sometimes they do indicate a problem worth paying attention to. That’s why, if you get them a lot, you should see if they have anything to do with the 5 factors below.

1. Poor blood circulation

Poor circulation in the legs can cause muscle cramps

Conditions that inhibit blood circulation are often a cause of painful muscle cramps. Over the course of the day, muscles depend on good circulation to receive the oxygen they need to work properly.

If blood does not circulate well, muscle cells can’t process impulses correctly and therefore contractions result. It’s important to see if your cramps are caused by poor circulation, and if so, to seek appropriate treatment.

2. Mineral deficiency

The majority of people who get frequent cramps have a magnesium deficiency. However, this mineral is not the only possibility. They can also be caused by a low concentration of electrolytes, caused by an imbalance of potassium, calcium, and sodium.

It’s very common in athletes and people involved in demanding physical activity since these substances are eliminated through sweat.

  • To counteract this effect, it’s important to drink isotonic (sports) drinks, especially after working out.
  • Also, you should increase your intake of these minerals, ideally by eating fruits and vegetables.

3. Dehydration

A dehydrated woman after exercising on the beach.

Cramps or muscle spasms happen more in places with a hot climate, or during the summer months. However, that doesn’t mean that the temperature is causing them. Instead, it’s the loss of fluids through perspiration, as well as low water intake what may cause these annoying symptoms.

Dehydration makes the nerve endings sensitive and causes contractions in different muscle groups in the body.

  • For prevention, we suggest drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water per day.
  • It’s also good to drink teas and natural juices, or eat fruit with high water content, like watermelon.

4. Physical overload

Excessive physical activity, be it a marathon, high-intensity exercise, or a certain kinds of jobs, can make your legs cramp up. When muscles are exhausted, muscle cells get irritated and may incorrectly process the electrical signals they receive.

  • To keep this and other injuries from happening, make sure your training plan fits your physical ability.
  • In addition, before working out don’t forget to warm up, and afterwards do stretching exercises.

5. Cold temperatures

Cold feet in the winter and slippers.

When your body is exposed to low temperatures, or a sudden change from hot to cold, your muscles tense up. This type of cramp is less common and you can avoid it by taking steps to keep your body temperature stable.

6. Anatomical and medical reasons

Cramps are so common that people don’t consider that they might be caused by anatomical or medical reasons. Although this should be determined by a specialist, it shouldn’t be discarded as a possibility.

These causes include:

  • Misalignment of the legs, hips, or torso.
  • Nerve damage.
  • Constricted blood vessels.
  • Metabolic disorders like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or hypoglycemia.
  • Neurological conditions like Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease, or muscle diseases (myopathies).
  • Varicose veins.
  • Cirrhosis.
  • Side effects from medications.

We’ve all had cramps at some point, and they often don’t require treatment because they go away quickly. But if they keep coming back, especially at night, you should see your doctor.

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Although there are different pain-relief alternatives for when we suffer a cramp, one of the most effective ways is to drink plenty of water.