Muscle cramps are a familiar condition that affects all of us from time to time. Whether it is one of those sharply painful leg spasms that wake you up in the middle of the night or an ache that stops you in your tracks at the gym, we have all had them. They range from annoying to downright frightening. But, why do you get muscle cramps? Are they a sign of something more serious? And, most importantly, what can you do to prevent them?
Let’s take a closer look at how muscle cramps work and what you can do to avoid them.
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
Every person is different and each one of us has different causes of muscle cramps at different times. While it is not a very exact science, there are a few key issues that often cause muscle cramps. Here are a few possible causes to consider:
- Overuse and fatigue: Muscle cramps are common during workouts and can persist even after the exercise session is over as your body gets used to a new routine. Stretching and properly warming up before your workout is key to prevention. It’s also important to eat carbohydrate-rich foods before workouts and replace the salt your body loses during sweat sessions.
- Dehydration: During workouts, your muscle cramps may also be caused by dehydration. If the weather is particularly hot, you might find that even light activity leaves you parched. This is just another one of the many reasons that it is crucial to have plenty of water on hand any time you are breaking a sweat.
- Muscle strain: Staying in the same position for a long period can cause cramps. While standing still feels entirely different from an intense workout it can still cause strain on your body.
These are the three most common causes of muscle cramps but not the only ones. Occasionally there is an underlying medical condition causing cramps. In other cases, the exact cause is not known.
Are Some People More Prone to Muscle Cramps?
Here in our Singapore clinic, one of our most frequently asked questions is: why am I so prone to muscle cramps? Is there some underlying issue? While muscle cramps shouldn’t be a cause of panic, there are a few common conditions that can cause them.
Why Do You Get Muscle Cramps?
Muscle cramps can seem entirely random. Two people can do the same warmup before a workout and one gets cramps while the other doesn’t. Two people can have a similar medical history and one regularly gets leg cramps at night while the other doesn’t. Why is that? There are a few factors that may boost your risk of muscle cramps:
- Age: As you get older, you lose muscle mass. The muscle mass that remains can get overstressed more easily and that can lead to muscle fatigue that causes cramps.
- Dehydration: Athletes, those living in warm climates, and people who simply don’t drink enough water often complain of muscle cramps.
- Pregnancy: During pregnancy, your entire body is under stress and muscle cramps become common.
- Medical conditions: If you have diabetes or a disorder affecting your nerves, liver or thyroid, you are at great risk of muscle cramps.
Why Do We Get Muscle Cramps at Night?
Many of the muscle cramp issues that we hear about happen at night. People often come in with complaints that sudden cramps, especially leg cramps, wake them up or prevent them from getting to sleep.
These can be caused by the same muscle fatigue and dehydration that causes cramps during the daytime. They are even more common after a day of a lot of exercise and movement. The reasons why nocturnal cramps are more common, however, aren’t known.
Experts know that muscle cramps at night become increasingly common with age but we don’t know the reason for it. We do know that when your muscles are tight after strenuous exercise such as F45 trainings or HIIT workouts, they may contract. This causes cramping. This is especially common when you are beginning a new workout or dealing with dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance.
For doctors, however, all cramps are essentially the same. We call the evening ones nocturnal cramps but we are yet to see what causes them to only happen at night for some people.
When Should I Be Worried About Muscle Cramps?
Deciding when to go to the doctor about cramps can be confusing. While a cramp can feel incredibly painful, it is rarely a cause for panic. Generally speaking, you only need emergency care if your cramp lasts more than ten minutes.
As painful as cramps can be, they should be over quickly. If your cramp is sharply painful and not going away, it can be a sign of an urgent medical issue.
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When To See a Doctor About Muscle Cramps
While muscle cramps almost always go away on their own, they are worth mentioning to your doctor in some cases. Even if your cramps don’t require an urgent hospital visit, you should book an appointment with a healthcare professional if you are dealing with any of the following conditions:
- Unbearable pain
- Leg swelling
- Redness or changes to your skin
- Muscle weakness
- Frequent cramps
- Cramps that don’t go away
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What Diseases Have Muscle Cramps As a Symptom?
Why do you get muscle cramps? Could they be a sign of a bigger issue? The most common diseases that cause cramps are diabetes and any disorder of your liver, thyroid, or nerves. These are not the only causes, however.
Your body supply can also cause cramps. When your arteries are narrow in your legs, you can feel a pain similar to cramps in your legs and feet. This will happen when you’re exercising then typically stop quickly as soon as you stop moving.
You may also be dealing with compressed nerves in your spine. The longer you walk, the worse this pain will get. Sometimes simply walking with a slight flex can improve symptoms.
In either of these cases, it’s important to see a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
What Is the Body Lacking When You Get Cramps?
Cramps can also be caused by the depletion of minerals in your body. This is particularly true when you are deficient in potassium, calcium or magnesium. These deficiencies can be caused by dehydration, or simply a diet lacking in variety. Why do you get muscle cramps if you’re drinking plenty of water and maintaining a good idea? Certain medications for high blood pressure and other conditions can also cause deficiencies so check with your doctor if you have regular medication.
How to Prevent Muscle Cramps
Want to prevent cramps? There are a few key steps that you can take:
- Avoid dehydration: Always drink plenty of water. If you have trouble getting enough water, look to other low-sugar, non-alcoholic drinks as well as water-rich fruits and vegetables.
- Stretch your muscles: Before you work out, always stretch and take the time to warm up. If you can’t exercise regularly, a simple and quick routine of light stretches and walking can make a world of difference. This can be helpful especially if you are working from home, and this can prevent work-from-home aches and pains. Frequently doing shoulder mobility exercises can also help improve shoulder mobility for long-term and short-term relief.
Tired of dealing with muscle cramps? It’s time to chat with an orthopaedic doctor in Singapore. Call us at +65 6235 8781, message us on Whatsapp at +65 8028 4572, or email email@example.com.
If you’d like to find us directly, visit one of our clinics below:
Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre
3 Mount Elizabeth, #13-14
Mount Alvernia Hospital
820 Thomson Road
Medical Centre D #05-60