Most of us must have experienced painful, unbearable spasmodic contractions in our muscles. Though they may seem fairly harmless, muscular cramps can be an indication of an underlying physiological disorder, a nutritional deficiency, electrolyte imbalance or even fatigue.
Cramps in the legs, feet and calf are very common. Some cramps occur after vigorous activity while some occur when you’re sitting or lying in an awkward position, or performing an activity over a prolonged period. Rest or nocturnal cramps usually occur in the calf and feet during the night. Such cramps occur when the muscle contracts due a movement and is unable to restore itself to its original position. A major cause is dehydration and loss of essential fluids.
Other known causes of muscular cramps are smoking, anaemia, overexertion, inactivity, hormonal imbalance, arthritis, inadequate water intake, heat stroke and low thyroid function.
Set the muscle straight
Correcting these cramps is fairly simple. It involves hydration, nourishment and massages. Since cramps are more likely to occur post exercise, you must stretch the worked out muscle while sipping cool water before, during and after the activity. Sports beverages help restore the fluid as well as the electrolyte balance lost during exercise.
Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium, and a few vitamins, are also essential to muscles.
Calcium: Eating sesame seeds, leafy vegetables, kidney beans, kabuli chana, cheese, milk and dairy products will increase calcium levels in the body. But the supplementation must be coupled with Vitamin D, which assists in calcium absorption.
Magnesium: Although most calcium tablets provide adequate magnesium, you can take separate tablets for it too.
Leafy vegetables are very rich in magnesium, and a daily dose of mint and coriander juice should do you good.
Sodium and potassium: People who happen to use diuretics tend to lose a lot of sodium and potassium. Coconut water, fresh lime juice (with black salt), tomato juice, etc will provide both these minerals.
Vitamin E: Studies have shown that muscular cramps reduce when the diet is supplemented with Vitamin E (200-400IU).
Massage: Gentle massage and heat treatments help relax muscles by improving blood circulation to the area. Breathing techniques also help ease the pain associated with cramps. So ensure you’re drinking adequate (electrolyte rich) fluids and taking the right supplements.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre