Almost everyone experiences a muscle cramp at some time in their life. It is especially common among people who participate in sports. In fact, muscle cramps afflict 39 percent of marathon runners, 79 percent of athletes and 60 percent of cyclists at one time or another.
These sudden and involuntary contractions can occur in different muscle groups. Most commonly affected are the muscles in the back of the lower leg and the front and back of the thigh. Muscle cramps may also happen in the abdominal wall, arms, hands and feet.
Intense sharp pain is the most common symptom. It can also be accompanied by swelling, soreness and inflammation.
In some cases, a hard lump of muscle tissue develops beneath the skin. A muscle cramp can last from a few seconds to 15 minutes or longer.
In many cases, the exact cause isn’t known. However, it often results from overuse of your muscles while doing some kind of exercise.
Other causes include muscle injuries, dehydration, poor circulation and a deficiency of a mineral like calcium, magnesium or potassium.
It can also be associated with medical conditions like restless legs syndrome, spinal nerve compression, alcoholism, pregnancy, kidney failure, diabetes and hypothyroidism.
Medicines are generally not needed to treat an ordinary muscle cramp. However, to speed up the recovery time and lessen the discomfort, you can try some simple home remedies.
To begin with, start stretching and massaging the affected muscles. You can also apply heat to relax the tense muscles.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for muscle cramps.
1. Cold Compress
After the initial heat treatment or after the pain has improved, use a cold compress on the sore muscles to provide complete relief from a muscle cramp.
The cold temperature will numb the pain, reduce inflammation and allow the affected muscle to relax. Plus, once the cramp is gone, a cold compress will help reduce soreness by constricting the blood vessels.
- Wrap a handful of ice cubes in a thin towel and put it on the affected area for about 15 minutes at a time. Repeat every two hours for one to two days.
- Another option is to take a cold shower as needed to relax sore muscles.
2. Epsom Salt
Epsom salt can also be used to treat muscle cramps. The magnesium in Epsom salt promotes muscle relaxation and healing.
- Fill your bathtub with warm water.
- Add two cups of Epsom salt and stir it thoroughly.
- Soak in this bath for 20 minutes.
- Usually, taking this bath once will take care of the problem. However, if required you can repeat this remedy the next day.
Note: Epsom salt must not be used by those suffering from heart problems, high blood pressure or diabetes.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar
Being high in potassium, raw and unfiltered apple cider vinegar helps relieve muscle cramps. Low potassium is one of the common causes of frequent muscle cramps. Plus, there are several nutrients in apple cider vinegar that help control the fluid balance in the body, thus preventing dehydration.
- Mix one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water. Drink this tonic once daily to prevent muscle cramps.
- To prevent nocturnal leg cramps, you can mix one teaspoon each of apple cider vinegar and honey and one tablespoon of calcium lactate in one-half glass of warm water. Drink this solution daily at night, about half an hour before going to bed.
4. Yellow Mustard
Interestingly, yellow mustard, too, has been used to treat muscle cramps within minutes. The possible reason could be that it contains acetic acid that promotes production of acetylcholine in the body. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that prompts muscles to work. This will relieve pain and soreness.
Simply take one teaspoon of yellow mustard. You can follow it by warm milk.
5. Clove Oil
Clove oil has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce muscle cramp inflammation and swelling. Plus, the anesthetic property of clove oil will help alleviate pain.
- Slightly warm some clove oil.
- Rub it on the affected area.
- Using firm strokes, massage the area for five minutes.
- If required, repeat the process again.
6. Black Strap Molasses
If your muscle cramp is linked to calcium and potassium deficiency, then black strap molasses is a great remedy for you. It is a good source of calcium and potassium, and thus it can help to maintain strong muscles and prevent cramps.
- Mix one tablespoon of black strap molasses in a glass of warm water or milk.
- Drink this mixture and within minutes you will get relief from the pain.
- If required, you can drink this solution once more.
You can also drink this solution on a regular basis to prevent deficiency of potassium and calcium in your body.
Rosemary has anti-inflammatory properties that can help calm inflamed muscle tissue and reduce pain and soreness. It also has a warming effect that promotes relaxation. It can even speed up the recovery time because rosemary is easily absorbed through the skin.
- Put one ounce of rosemary leaves in a one-pint jar and fill the jar with boiling water. Cover and let it steep for 30 minutes. Soak a washcloth in this warm solution and put it on the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes. When the pain improves, follow it with a cold compress.
- Add one or two teaspoons of dried rosemary to one cup of hot water. Let it steep for about 10 minutes and then strain it. Drink this tea two or three times a day.
8. Stretching Exercises
Performing simple stretching exercises can help relieve muscle cramps. Stretch the affected muscle with a mild, static stretch for 15 to 30 seconds at a time and rub the affected area gently to help it relax.
You can also go for a swim. The movement of muscles in water helps stretch them out and ease soreness. Plus, cold water helps reduce inflammation and pain.
Note: If stretching causes more intense pain, stop doing it.
You can also massage the affected muscle to help ease the soreness and stiffness. Massage the cramped muscle with long strokes until it becomes relaxed. After the massage, wrap the area with a warm towel.
For added benefits, use a massage oil prepared by mixing one part wintergreen oil with four parts vegetable oil. Wintergreen contains methyl salicylate, which relieves pain and stimulates blood flow.
10. Drink Fluids
Dehydration is one of the main causes of leg cramping, in both athletic and non-athletic people. Rehydrating your body will quickly solve the problem.
- Drink one to two glasses of water immediately upon cramping. Be sure to drink enough water throughout the day to prevent cramps.
- If you tend to get muscle cramps during exercise, drink some water two hours before each workout and at regular breaks while exercising.
Along with drinking water, eat more water-based fruits and vegetables to reduce the chance of dehydration and prevent muscle cramps.
- Get plenty of rest before and after exercise. This will help your muscles recover and prevent cramping.
- If you get muscle cramps at night, wear thin socks to bed to promote smooth blood flow. You can also use a pillow to prop your knees up while lying in bed.
- Stretch, walk or do some light exercise for five minutes before going to bed. This will warm up your muscles and increase circulation.
- You can also drink a glass of warm milk daily before going to bed.
- To prevent muscle cramping during the winter, keep your muscles warm with adequate clothing.
- Make sure to include foods high in vitamins A and E as well as magnesium to prevent muscle cramps.
- If you suffer from chronic muscle cramps, you can take a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement. Talk to your doctor about calcium, magnesium or potassium supplements to reduce and prevent muscle cramps.
These remedies and tips will help get rid of muscle cramps quickly and even help you prevent them. However, if you have muscle cramps frequently, consult your doctor.