'Cramps' Rhymes With 'Stamps'; Here's How to Lick 'Em
Class is in session. Today's topic isn't the sexiest, but if you've ever had a muscle cramp during sex, you know how it can snap the brain to complete attention. Cramps happen at other times, too.
You're running across a tennis court when suddenly, someone is jabbing a fork into your calf. Or you're blissfully swimming along and for no reason, your toes get stuck in a vise. Or you're asleep in bed hours after a vigorous walk -- nighttime cramps are very common -- and you're jolted awake with a piercing pain in your thigh.
So much for the problem. Let's talk solutions. Though it's still a bit of a mystery why some people get cramps -- aka charley horses or muscle
spasms-- there are lots of things you can do for prevention and relief.
Let's begin with a little basic physiology:
-- CRAMPS R US. Every movement you make involves the contraction and relaxation of a muscle. When your muscle contracts (gets shorter), there is a change in the concentration of sodium and potassium ions (minerals called electrolytes) inside the muscle. When your muscle relaxes, the concentration of sodium and potassium goes back to normal. At least, that's the cosmic plan.
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But if you work your muscles too hard or too long (overexertion) or if you don't drink enough fluids (dehydration), you may cause the ionic concentration to get so out of balance that your muscle contracts -- and stays contracted.
The result? A cramp! Sometimes, the muscle will cramp right away, while other times, it has a delayed reaction and cramps up later at night. It might last a minute or less, or it may really take hold and hang on, so much so that you actually feel muscle soreness the next day.
-- OTHER CAUSES. High heels, a sedentary lifestyle and circulation problems can bring on cramps, and so might certain medications (statin drugs, for instance). A change in terrain that puts more strain on your muscles -- climbing hills versus walking the flats -- can also cause leg cramps.
So exercise your curiosity: What might be causing your cramps? Figure it out; the solution is often simple. In some cases -- when reoccurring cramps are accompanied by swelling or muscle weakness -- the problem could involve a malfunctioning vascular system -- and for that, you'll have to consult a doctor.