Muscle Cramps: why they appear and how to avoid having them

Muscle cramps aren't dangerous or too harmful, but they can be painful. If they occur often, it may be necessary to visit a doctor.
Muscle Cramps: why they appear and how to avoid having them

Last update: 16 January, 2019

It’s something that happens to all of us—when making a certain movement, the muscle contracts with sharp pain and stiffness—muscle cramps. Muscle cramps are involuntary contractions and are usually quite painful. In this post, we’ll tell you why they occur and how to evade them. Keep reading!

Muscle spasms or cramping can happen for various reasons such as a lack of oxygen in the muscles, cold, rough movements, among others. Cramps are common during menstruation, when stretching the body upon waking up, or when doing an extremely demanding physical activity.

Muscle cramps are annoying for anyone, but especially for athletes. Besides being painful, they interrupt the exercise and can inflame the affected area. 

Why do they occur?

Muscle cramps are easy to identify. Basically, a muscle spasm is the prolonged contraction of the muscle. It enters the category of cramp when the contraction cannot be controlled voluntarily.

Muscle cramps can't be controlled voluntarily.

The reasons why cramps usually appear are the following:

  • Poor circulation in the area.
  • Playing sports without warming up or stretching.
  • Performing a physical activity in low temperatures.
  • Muscular fatigue.
  • Dehydration.
  • Magnesium or potassium deficiency.
  • Making a wrong movement, or forcing the muscle to be in an unnatural position.

How can I avoid them?

Cramps cause intense pain, so suffering from them is extremely uncomfortable. For this reason, it’s advisable to do everything possible to avoid having them. Preventing muscle cramps is very simple. It’s really just about taking care of the little details that we often forget. Keep these aspects in mind:

  • Hydrate sufficiently: it doesn’t matter if you’re going to exercise or not. Stay hydrated at all times throughout the day. Otherwise, the risk of cramping increases with any movement you make.
  • Stretch. Before and after exercising, keep stretching. If you tend to suffer cramps while sleeping, stretch a little before going to bed. It’s important to note that when you stretch your muscles, they should be relaxed while you breathe gently at the same time.
  •  Prevent the lack of potassium or magnesium: the deficiency of these elements makes you more prone to cramping. So make friends with bananas and peanuts!
  • Avoid accumulating lactic acid in your muscles: lactic acid generates while performing very intense exercises. Accumulating too much of it in the muscles is extremely harmful. In fact, it would only promote the occurrence of cramps. To reduce lactic acid you should stretch, exercise regularly, and keep your muscles oxygenated.
It's important to stretch before and after exercising.

Should I go to the doctor?

Is it necessary to see a doctor if I get a cramp? No, cramps are usually transient and don’t damage the structure or function of the muscle. However, there are some symptoms that may need a professional’s opinion. So you should pay attention to the following examples:

  • If muscle spasms appear frequently and in the same muscle groups.
  • If they’re characterized by redness or changes to the skin and swelling of the area.
  • When the pain is too intense and unbearable.
  • If they don’t disappear with preventive care.
  • When you don’t seem to show any apparent reasons to have cramps.

It’s essential that you do not self-medicate for cramps. Taking medications without having a medical diagnosis isn’t recommended. In addition to putting preventive methods into practice, you can ingest isotonic drinks to better hydrate your muscles. Never take antibiotics or remedies without first visiting a doctor.

A cramp is not a contracture

It’s important not to confuse a cramp with a contracture. The symptoms—pain and muscular contractions—are very similar. However, contractures can last for days or months even. They are much more serious than a cramp since they don’t disappear with massages or stretching.

Contractures can happen due to nervous tension, excessive exercise, or poor posture. An example of contracture is torticollis. Be careful with the symptoms you manifest and go to a professional, who will appoint the right treatment. In the meantime, you can put ice on the affected area.

Cramps are not a big concern, however, it doesn’t hurt to take care of your body and in turn, avoid the unnecessary pain that a cramp can cause. Also, if you begin to suspect any other symptom that accompanies muscle spasms, don’t hesitate to visit the doctor.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.