A muscle cramp is a sudden painful and involuntary contraction of one or more of your muscles. Long periods of exercise or fluid loss from sweating, vomiting or diarrhea may lead to muscle cramps. Muscle cramps are generally harmless and subside on their own, however, there are ways to minimize the risk of cramping or treat cramps once they start.
Muscle cramps typically occur in your calf, front or back of the thigh, feet, hands and arms. Cramps usually last a few seconds but may last as long as 15 minutes. One cause of muscle cramps is dehydration. If you are experiencing muscle cramps, rehydrate your body by drinking water or an electrolyte drink. Although there is no simple formula for calculating your daily fluid requirement, physicians recommended eight to nine glasses of water a day, according to MayoClinic.com. However, if you experience excess water loss through sweating, vomiting or diarrhea it is important to drink more than this to replace fluid losses.
Calcium and Magnesium
Calcium and magnesium play an important role in your body. These minerals are essential for bone health and communication between muscle cells. Specifically calcium causes muscles to contract and magnesium causes them to relax. Maintaining adequate calcium and magnesium in the body is essential for both of these functions. For example, without sufficient magnesium, your muscles will cramp and be unable to relax. Ensure you get enough calcium and magnesium in your diet. Good sources of calcium include yogurt, cheese, milk, spinach, turnip and kale. Good sources of magnesium include whole grains, seeds, nuts, leafy greens and beans.
Perhaps the best known cause of muscle cramps is too little potassium in your diet. Potassium is required for proper cell functioning and muscle growth. Inadequate potassium intake results in hypokalemia. Hypokalemia causes muscle weakness and muscle cramps, according to MayoClinic.com. Prevent hypokalemia by getting enough potassium in your diet and include potassium-rich foods such as meat, dairy products, nuts, raisins, bananas, sweet potatoes and peas.
In addition to dietary changes, you can also treat muscle cramps by stretching out the muscle or gently massaging it. For leg cramps, this can often be done by standing up and walking around. If you are lying down, point your toes towards your head for a calf stretch. For hand cramps, stretch your arm out in front of you, hold your finger with your opposite hand and stretch your fingers back towards your elbow.