Muscle cramps refer to moderate to severe pain and tingling sensation in the muscles after overexertion, dehydration or long periods of inactivity, which are most commonly felt in calf muscles of leg but can also be felt in any muscle or tissue like thigh muscles, ankle and upper limb muscles. Muscle cramps affect the productivity and overall compliance to perform exercise and physical activity; therefore it is very important to know the inciting cause and possible preventions to minimize the risk of muscle cramps.
6 Ways to Prevent Muscle Cramps
1. Drink Enough Water
Sufficient quantities of water are required for the maintenance of healthy circulation within your tissues. Human body is capable of conserving water in hot humid weather but in order to maintain body temperature, the insensible loss from skin increases significantly that is dependent on a number of factors like total body weight, environmental temperature and humidity. The water loss from your body increases significantly if you are exercising or working out. Moderate to severe exercise in hot weather can lead to significant dehydration (due to loss of as much as 0.5 to 1.5 liters of fluid). Dehydration is also supplemented with changes in electrolyte concentration and aberrations in the serum levels of calcium (that is the leading cause of muscle twitching and cramps in hot weather). Increase your water intake to at least 2 to 2.5 Liters per days and take frequent water breaks if you are exercising in hot humid weather.
2. Increase Vitamin Intake
Muscle cramps are also caused by moderate deficiency of certain essential vitamins and minerals that play an important role in the maintenance of muscular physiology. Increase the intake of diets rich in quality nutrients like Vitamin A, B- complex, C and vitamin D. You can synthesize vitamin D from your skin cells if your exposure to sun is significant. Likewise, fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, thin cuts of meat and dairy also improve overall nutritional status and strengthen bones and muscles. You can also consider taking supplemental forms of vitamins and minerals (especially magnesium and zinc to optimize muscle contraction without cramping pain).
3. Eat Foods Rich in Potassium
Alterations in the overall intake or serum concentration of sodium and potassium (that are two primary and most important electrolytes) significantly alter the overall functioning of muscles. You can increase your intake of potassium naturally by consuming foods that supply potassium like; vegetables (avocados, soybeans, broccoli, potatoes and fruits (bananas, apricots, orange juice and raisins). Obviously it is a great idea to have these nutrients factories with you whenever you are exercising your muscles vigorously. Individuals who are prone to develop cramping muscle pain can also get benefitted by periodic intake of fresh nutrients and potassium containing foods to minimize the overall episodes and to increase the exercise endurance. Additionally, you can always get benefitted from sports drinks that also contain reasonable quantities of sodium, potassium and other electrolytes (for best results, make sure to add a little fluid to enhance the total absorption of nutrients).
4. Don’t Exercise Immediately After Eating
One of the very common reasons of muscle cramps is exercising or working out at wrong time. Exercising vigorously after a heavy meal can induce a severe episode of cramping pain in abdominal as well as limb muscles in addition to other unpleasant symptoms like nausea, vomiting and dizziness. This is because soon after meals, the blood flow to your gut increases; if you try to work-out your muscles, the blood is shifted to your exercising muscles that may create unpleasant effects in gut (also affecting your digestion). Ideally, wait for at least two hours after meals (the ideal duration is dependent on factors like amount of food intake, nature and composition of meals and personal factors
5. Stretch Before Exercise
If you are in habit of exercising without proper warm up, you are very likely to develop muscle cramps. Healthcare providers advice moderate stretching exercises to warm up your quiescent muscle, especially in muscles that are more prone to cramping. You can use passive stretching to decrease the incidence of crams and severity, duration and intensity of episodes. Regular passive stretching is known to lengthen the overall dimensions of muscle fibers by affecting the reflex activity of neural elements, additionally, regular massage therapy also promotes relaxation of tense and tender muscle fibers and also aids in restoring blood circulation to affected tissue in order to washout lactic acid. Lastly, massage also promotes flow of fresh blood that delivers oxygen to tense tissues and promotes excretion of metabolites.
6. Learn Breathing Techniques
The most important cause of muscle cramping is lactic acid buildup in the muscles as discussed in the earlier section. Exercising muscles require oxygen for the metabolism of glucose to generate energy that supply contraction of muscles. However, if oxygen concentration in the blood decreases, our muscles metabolize energy under conditions of low oxygen (also known as anerobic environment) that leads to formation of lactic acid. In order to maintain high oxygen levels in your blood, deep breathing exercises are exceptionally helpful. The technique is simple, put your hands on your stomach and take deep breath (so that you can actually feel tension or contraction in your stomach muscles). With optimal blood oxygen concentration, the episodes of hypoxia induced muscle cramps reduce significantly.
Here is a video that may provide you additional information and guidance to manage your symptoms.