According to a recent survey of family physicians, more than 95 percent of American adults have reported experiencing the pain of muscle cramps. While the cramps are not usually an indicator of any more serious medical problem, anyone who has experienced one can undoubtedly attest to the fact that they can be very painful.
Muscle cramps can occur anywhere in the body, but they are reported more frequently in the legs, hands, and feet. They can also happen any time of the day, but studies show that up to 75 percent usually occur after the sun goes down. This is most likely because muscle cramps are caused by overstressing the muscle through repetitive action such as in the case of writer’s cramp. Other cramps are caused by a lack of motion when you have to hold your body for long periods of time in the same position, like when you are sitting on an airplane for a long flight.
How to Prevent Muscle Cramps
There are several preventive things you can try to lessen both the number and intensity of muscle cramps you experience. First, is to drink at least ten to twelve cups of water a day because muscles need water to operate correctly. Many of the cramps that make you jump up out of bed have been found to be caused at least in part by dehydration, so be sure you are getting enough fluids throughout the day.
The second way to prevent muscle cramps is exercise, especially if you are getting older. Muscles that are toned and in good shape have a much less chance of cramping than ones that are affected by age-related muscle loss. You don’t have to do high-intensity workouts, as little as standing and walking around the block several times a week will help tremendously. When taking a long trip, get up and walk at least every hour for many health reasons. And if you can’t stand, do feet and calf stretches while you are seated.
Once the muscle cramp has begun, the easiest way to relieve the pain is to gently rub the muscle in an attempt to have it relax. If that does not help, try to apply some heat to the area. You can use a warm towel, a hot water bottle, or soak in a warm bath for ten to fifteen minutes to loosen up the muscle and then massage it again. Vitamin B is also critical to the normal function of muscles and nerves. In one small study, older patients who took a B complex vitamin three times a day for three months reported 86 percent fewer leg cramps than the group who did not receive the vitamin. B vitamins can interact with other medications so as always, before taking any new drug or vitamin, always check with your physician first.