Muscle cramps (not to be confused with illness related stomach cramps) are very common and quite painful. They usually happen suddenly and can involve any muscle, but most often the legs and frequently in the middle of the night. Gently stretching the affected muscle usually relieves the cramp. The following list gives the most common causes and some tips for prevention:
- Dehydration: Dehydration is usually caused by sweating in a warm environment, or through diarrhea and/or vomiting. Usually this fluid and electrolyte (sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium) loss from dehydration is the most common cause of cramps. Drink plenty of electrolyte rich fluids, such as those found in sports drinks, to stay ahead of dehydration. Treat diarrhea and vomiting with the appropriate medication, replacing lost fluids as indicated. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these act as diuretics, causing increased urination.
- Overuse of Muscles: De-conditioned muscles tend to cramp more easily than those that are trained. Before any significant exercise, warm up and stretch properly.
- Various Medications: The most common offender is diuretics, because they cause fluid and electrolyte loss as discussed above. Physician monitoring is critically important with these medications.
- Medical Conditions: Some conditions, including (but not limited to) restless leg syndrome, vascular disease, anemia, diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, cause highly uncomfortable cramping. Blood work is often ordered to help in the diagnosis these conditions, and occasionally nerve and muscle studies are requested by the physician. Treatments for muscle aches caused by these conditions is specific to the named diagnosis.
Many times, muscle cramps are treatable at home. However, should they not begin to resolve with the proper remedies, it is important that the cramping not be ignored. If you are a member of North Idaho Direct Primary Care and you are experiencing concerning cramping symptoms, contact us to schedule an in-office appointment for an examination. If you have questions about becoming a member of our practice, you can find more information by clicking here. You can also join our mailing list to receive our monthly newsletter.