Last week, I touched on the issue of muscle soreness after new or difficult workouts, and provided different ways to alleviate the stiffness and discomfort.
This week, I’d like to talk about sore muscle’s cousin: muscle cramps (and spasms).
If you’re like me, you’ve been there: peacefully dreaming in the middle of the night, when, suddenly, you’re woken from a dead sleep because it feels like someone is stabbing you in the calf…or quad….or foot. You quickly realize, thankfully, that there is no one stabbing you. Instead, you have just become the victim of your body’s demands, which have taken form in a seriously agonizing muscle cramp. Sometimes it lasts for a few seconds. Sometimes minutes. But they always seem to last forever. You stretch and massage the area, and it finally releases, leaving you with an achy muscle, and sometimes even a bruise.
While there may be many explanations for seemingly random muscle cramps and spasms that can emanate from bodily disorders, I’m going to stick with the athletic/exercise-induced antagonists.
A muscle cramp is when an muscle involuntarily and forcibly contracts and shortens for a period of time. If it happens very quickly and immediately subsides, it is considered a ‘spasm.’ If the spasm is sustained, it becomes a cramp. Often, muscle cramps are visible to the eye and will be hard to the touch.
These unwelcome cramps can occur during many different times and activities, and can last up to a half hour (no thank you!). Some common factors that induce muscle cramps and spasms include:
- Vigorous activity. Due to overuse and muscle fatigue, muscle cramps can manifest during exercise or other unaccustomed activities. Strengthening the muscle over time can help to prevent these cramps. Additionally, proper stretching techniques after working out can assist in the prevention of muscle cramps and spasms.
- Resting. While the cause may be unknown, muscle cramps can occur during a period of rest, and often during sleep. Sometimes, such cramps are initiated by making a movement that shortens the muscle. An example is pointing the toe down while lying in bed, which shortens the calf muscle, a common site of muscle cramps. One way to counter a potential muscle cramp during the night is to, wait for it, stretch. Stretching before bed or before a long period of minimal activity can lessen the probability of a muscle cramp during that time.
- Dehydration. Frequent exercise and activity can cause dehydration, which leads to sodium and potassium depletion, ultimately causing muscles to cramp and spasm. Sodium and potassium depletion has been associated with muscle cramps, and is a result of dehydration. Replenish your body with lots of water and foods that help sustain electrolytes.
Poor and improper nutrition can also lead vitamin deficiencies, which can cause muscle cramps and spams. Make sure your diet is healthy and balanced, providing your body with the nutrients it needs.
Let’s recap. To assist with the prevention of those nasty, undesirable, dreadful, involuntary muscle cramps and spasms, some steps you can take include:
- Stretching. And lots of it. Lengthen those muscles and fibers.
- Strengthen. Weak muscles have more of a tendency to cramp and spasm. Work toward strengthening your body. Not only will your muscles feel better, you will lose weight and gain muscle in the process. Who wouldn’t want that?
- Drink more water. Here at The Sisterhood, we preach this often. Your body loves the good ol’ H2O, so guzzle down.
- Eat right. This is important in every aspect of health and wellness, but especially so if you’re exercising quite a bit. Your body uses up vitamins and minerals much quicker, and requires an adequate amount of them to maintain ideal function. Depriving your body of this balance can not only result in muscle cramps and spasms, but other issues can manifest as well.
Taking care of your body doesn’t simply include exercise. There are many other factors that go into making sure you are healthy as well, including understanding the bi-products of exercise, such as muscle soreness and muscle cramps.
Eat right. Train right. And be the best you that you can be.
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