Muscle cramp - Symptoms and causes

Cramps Pain
A cramp describes as a sudden muscle contraction which causes significant pain and stiffness in the affected muscle. Besides the immediate sharp pain, you can feel a hard lump in the affected muscle tissue. The pain sometimes resolves on its own over a period of few seconds or minutes, or it could take hours to recover. Cramp can happen to skeletal muscle also called muscle fibers or smooth muscle (menstruation).

1. Muscle Cramp

Muscle Cramp – is a sharp tightening of a muscle that most frequently occurs in the legs, feet, and calves. Everyone encounters a muscle spasm at some point in their life. However, there are different types of muscle spasms depending on exact causes. A cramp can occur to a part of a muscle, an entire muscle or several muscles altogether.

There are different types of a muscle cramp. A skeletal muscle cramp is classified into three categories, including:

1. True and contracture – involves a single to many muscles in the cramping process which can occur after an injury due to spasms, muscle fatigue, lying in an awkward position for long, dehydration, and low blood calcium and potassium.

2. Tetany – This cramp can happen all over the body, where all the nerves stimulate in the body.

3. Dystonic – occurs in the muscle that is not intended for a movement, or moves in the opposite direction. This type of cramp is as common as the true cramp and usually happens to the eyelids, neck, and jaws.

Besides the cramps mentioned above, the following body areas are also prone to a muscle spasm.

  • Calf muscle cramp
  • Inner thigh muscle cramps
  • Abdominal or stomach muscle cramps
  • Neck and back muscle cramp
  • Muscle cramps in feet, hands, and arms
  • Soft muscles in the uterus (period cramp)

1.1. What causes muscle cramps?

  • Dehydration -lack of water in your body
  • Overused muscle – Such as exercising or moving a muscle in an awkward position and after an injury.
  • Lack of minerals in your body (potassium, magnesium, calcium)
  • Certain Medical conditions such as thyroid disease, kidney and blood pressure problems.
  • Certain medications – including steroids, birth control pills, asthma medications (Ventolin), Alzheimer’s drug (Aricept), and blood pressure medicine (Procardia).
  • low blood supply to the legs

1.2. Treatment for muscle cramps

One can treat a muscle spasm with self-care measures, and muscle cramps remedies including:

  • Stretching exercises – sit on the floor with the affected leg stretched and toes pulled back towards your head.
  • Hydration – Make sure you drink enough water to stay hydrated and balance your electrolytes.
  • Massage – Rub the affected muscle gently and relax the muscle.
  • Apply Heat or cold – Using a moist heating pad for cramps on a pulled or stiff muscle help to reduce spasms and increase the blood flow. Alternately, using a cold pad can also help relieve the pain.

A cramp describes as a sudden muscle
contraction which causes significant pain and
stiffness in the affected muscle.

2. Menstrual Cramp

Menstrual Cramp- is one of the most common types of cramp experienced by every woman before or during their period. Menstrual cramp is also called dysmenorrhea which is a cramping pain in the lower belly.  The pain is usually mild to severe during girls first two years of the period and becomes less painful with age. Some women also experience entirely no pain after giving birth.

2.1. Symptoms of a menstrual cramp include:

  • Pain or pressure in the lower abdomen
  • Pain in hips and lower back which spreads to inner thighs
  • Constant dull ache and bloating
  • Nausea or vomiting, loose stools, dizziness, diarrhea, and headaches.

2.2. What causes menstrual cramps?

A female’s body releases an egg once every 28 days, and if there is no sperm to fertile the released egg, the uterus contracts and expel its lining. This contraction and cramping process can feel similar to labor pain and also lead to nausea. A female uterus is a muscle, and if during the menstrual cycle it contracts too densely, it can press on nearby blood vessels, which causes cramping.

Severe contractions and menstrual cramps can also be caused by Endometriosis, Uterine fibroids, Adenomyosis, Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and Cervical stenosis (cervix is small and get in the way of menstrual flow).

2.3. Menstrual cramp treatment

Medical- many doctors suggest over the counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine.

Hormonal birth control pills and surgery is another form of reducing menstrual cramps. However, each has their side effects and should not be referred to unless the pain is severe.

Non-Medical-

  • Reduce stress -Supplements such as Vitamine E and B, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids
  • Physical activity
  • Heat therapy – Taking a warm bath or applying a heating pad for menstrual cramp on the lower belly is proven to be as effective as the over the counter medications to ease the pain.
  • Reduce alcohol intake – tobacco and alcohol both worsen the pain before and during the menstrual cycle.

3. Pregnancy Cramp

Many pregnant women experience a cramp during the first and second trimester of their pregnancy. Pregnancy cramp feels like a pull from one or both sides of the abdomen. In most cases, cramping is very normal during early pregnancy as the baby grows. As the uterus expands and muscles the round ligament that supports the uterus stretches and contracts, which causes a sharp, dull ache and cramp in the lower belly.

One of the most common causes that trigger cramping is due to a full bladder, sneezing hard, gas or bloatation, sexual intercourse, and constipation.

Weight Gain

Cramps during early Pregnancy is a very normal thing. However, it is uncomfortable and a little scary if the pain stays for long. Therefore, it is always recommended to discuss with a doctor if you have the following symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding, cramping, or discharge
  • Fever or chills
  • Severe abdominal pain or contractions
  • Dizziness and vomiting together with cramping

Weight Gain

During minor cramping, there are a couple of things one can do to ease the pain:

  • Get hydrated and drink plenty of water
  • Take a warm bath or a moist heating pad- place it on the lower back and not directly on the abdomen. Moist heat helps to relax stiff muscles and decrease intense contractions during cramping.
  • Do some exercises for relaxation (stretching and sitting).

Many pregnant women experience
a cramp during the first and second trimester
of their pregnancy

4. FAQs

How to get rid of muscle cramps?

There are many questions on how to prevent muscle cramps and what helps with muscle spasms. Following are some of the measure that provides long-term relief for muscle spasms:

  • Take vitamins to help with muscle cramps
  • Stretch before and after exercise
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Consume food high in magnesium, potassium, and sodium including, green vegetables, nuts or seeds, fish, soybeans, avocado, banana and dark chocolates.

What causes muscle cramps in legs?
  • Poor blood circulation in the leg
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Not stretching properly
  • Overexertion of calf muscles
  • Dehydration and certain medications
What causes muscle cramps all over the body?

There are many reasons for why do you get muscle cramps. Some of the general muscle cramps causes include lack of vitamins and supplements or poor diet, dehydration, some medications, muscle stiffness or overexertion, and certain medical conditions.

When a cramp or spasm start happening all over the body, it indicates either severe vitamin deficiency in the blood or occurs as a side effect of drugs that causes cramping all over the body.

Do muscle relaxers help with cramps?

A sharp contraction in the muscle cause muscle spasms and relaxants help to relax the muscle. A muscle relaxant can be referred to a whole body relaxant as it directly acts on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). There are many different muscle relaxants. However, the right relaxant is necessary for the proper effect depending on the condition.  If you are looking for muscle relaxers for menstrual cramps treatment, which is a contraction of the uterus muscle, the smooth muscle spasmolytics is suggested. For muscle cramps in leg, the antispastic and Antispasmodic muscle relaxants are effective. Muscle relaxants work for many women, but the side effects include drowsiness which a lot of people would want to avoid too.

What vitamin deficiency causes muscle cramps?

Lack of vitamins and supplements such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium, leads to muscle spasms.

Can dehydration cause muscle cramps?

Dehydration is one of the potential causes of cramping, especially during exercising. When you work out the body sweats and loses water, which causes dehydration and imbalance in electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, which leads to cramps.

Do banana and magnesium help with muscle cramps?

Yes, magnesium for muscle cramps is proved to improve and reduce spasms says DeJarra Sims, ND, an assistant professor of naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University’s California campus in San Diego. Magnesium can be found in numerous foods including banana. Therefore, adequate intake of magnesium is necessary to avoid severe muscle cramps. (Reference: https://www.crampdefense.com/pages/references)

5. References

Calf Cramps

When to see your doctor for cramps

Cramping During Pregnancy

Muscle Cramps

Why Is My Leg Cramping? What Can Help?

Top 8 Magnesium Rich Foods

Treat Painful Leg Spasms With Muscle Relaxants