Have you experienced sudden, involuntary contractions of muscles that are almost too painful to bear? Those painful contractions, commonly called muscle cramps, are no joking matter.
One can have muscle cramps in different muscle groups, including parts of the leg like the back of the lower leg, the front or back of the thigh, the abdominal wall, the arms, the hands, and even the neck.
An intensely painful cramp can happen for several reasons. Some common causes include overuse of the muscles, muscle injuries, dehydration, poor blood circulation and certain medical conditions, such as spinal nerve compression, alcoholism, pregnancy, kidney failure, and hypothyroidism.
Oftentimes, nutritional deficiencies can cause muscle cramps. Low levels of certain minerals and vitamins may cause some people to have more frequent cramps.
You can see your doctor and get tested for the levels of various minerals and vitamins in your body. Once any deficiency is taken care of, the problem of muscle cramps will likely resolve on its own.
Here is how you can treat muscle cramps with vitamins and minerals.
1. Muscle Cramps and Magnesium
A low magnesium level in the body can contribute to regular muscle spasms and cramps.
Magnesium is important for normal muscle and nerve functioning. It also stimulates calcium reuptake, which is important for maintaining strong muscles and preventing cramps. Along with that, magnesium increases the absorption of potassium, which also is important for proper muscle functioning.
If you have a magnesium deficiency, try to get your daily dose of magnesium through a healthy diet.
Some of the best food sources of magnesium are almonds, avocados, bananas, beans, pumpkin seeds, tofu, soy milk, cashews, pecans, walnuts, potatoes with the skin, yogurt, blackstrap molasses, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables.
It’s important not to eat a diet that is too high in fat, as it may reduce your body’s ability to absorb magnesium.
Apart from your diet, enjoying an Epsom salt bath twice a week can help maintain a normal magnesium level in the body.
If you want to take magnesium supplements, always consult your doctor first.
2. Muscle Cramps and Potassium
A low potassium level in the body can be another possible cause of muscle cramps as well as muscle weakness and fatigue.
Potassium is very important for your muscle health. It works with sodium to maintain your cells’ electrical charges, which in turn control muscle contractions and functioning.
Plus, potassium aids the absorption of calcium and magnesium.
Avoid a diet high in salt, as it can upset your body’s sodium-potassium balance and result in low potassium relative to sodium.
To maintain the required potassium level, eat foods like bananas, avocados, strawberries, oranges, mangoes, kiwis, apricots, dates, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, red peppers, sardines, and salmon.
If you opt to take a supplement, always consult your doctor first.
3. Muscle Cramps and Calcium
There is a strong connection between your muscle health and your calcium intake. Calcium is an electrolyte involved in nerve functioning and muscle contraction and relaxation. So, a calcium deficiency can prevent your muscles from relaxing after a contraction, thus leading to cramps.
Moreover, an insufficient calcium level causes nerve cells to become extra sensitive, leading to sudden muscle cramping and pain.
To ensure you are getting enough calcium, eat calcium-rich foods like skim or non-fat milk, dairy products, dark leafy green vegetables, fortified cereals, citrus fruits, blackstrap molasses, and soy products.
You can opt to take a supplement, but consult your doctor for the correct dosage.
4. Muscle Cramps and Sodium
While a low-sodium diet is good for your overall health, it can be the reason behind frequent exercise-induced muscle cramps.
Sodium is essential for muscle health. It works together with other electrolytes – potassium, magnesium, and calcium – to ensure proper nerve impulses and muscle functioning.
When your sodium level drops due to dehydration or excessive sweating, it is very common to suffer from muscle cramps.
If you do a lot of exercising in hot weather or if you sweat a lot, you need to make sure that you are getting some sodium in your diet. You may want to add some salt to your meals.
Caution: People with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney problems should avoid added salt.
5. Muscle Cramps and Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for bone as well as muscle health. If you have low blood levels of vitamin D, you’re more likely to experience muscle cramps.
Vitamin D is required to properly absorb calcium. Plus, low vitamin D in the body causes excessive sweating, which can lead to depletion of important minerals like potassium and sodium.
A 2015 study published in Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease reports that replenishing vitamin D in the body can have a substantial impact on muscle as well as bone health.
You can help your body make vitamin D by exposing your skin to early morning sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes. Also, some dietary sources of vitamin D include fortified milk, fish, cod liver oil, egg yolks, and fortified grain products.
You can opt to take a vitamin D supplement, after consulting your doctor.
Tips to Prevent Cramps
- Do regular exercise to stay fit. People who are fit experience fewer cramps.
- Do stretching exercises every day, especially with the muscles that tend to cramp.
- Drink sufficient water to prevent dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance. Drink water especially before, during and after periods of physical exertion.
- Always drink a glass of water first thing when you wake up in the morning to replenish any fluids lost during sleep.
- Eat a low-fat diet to prevent poor blood circulation that can cause cramps.
- In hot and humid conditions, take it easy to avoid excessive perspiration.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothes, especially at night to prevent nighttime leg cramps.