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All of us would have experienced a muscle cramp at some point of time in our lives. Muscle cramps are a common occurrence but can be very painful, lasting from anywhere between a few seconds to an hour or even longer. A muscle cramp is an involuntarily or forcibly contracted muscle (single or group of muscles) that do not relax. Muscle cramps are common in adults, but, children can experience cramps too.
The most common cramps are experienced in the legs and feet, particularly, the calf muscles. The skeletal muscles in the thigh, calf, and arch of the foot are the most common spots of cramping. Though muscle cramps are usually harmless, it makes it impossible to use the affected muscle. Muscle cramps may occur even at rest, or at night, or during a workout session. Often, a cramped muscle feels tender to touch and shows visible signs of twitching. Usually, during a cramp, an abrupt, intense pain is felt in the involved muscle.
While most cramps resolve on their own within a few seconds to minutes, stretching the muscle may help stop the cramp. Muscle cramps can be prevented through adequate nutrition and hydration, paying attention when exercising, and such other factors.
Causes of Muscle Cramps:
• Overuse of a muscle
• Muscle strain or holding the muscle in a particular position for a long time
• Inadequate blood supply to the muscle while you are exercising
• Spinal nerve compression
• Deficiency of minerals such as calcium, potassium or magnesium
• Deficiency of vitamins such as Vitamin B1, B5 and B6
• Certain medications such as diuretics that deplete minerals
• Inadequate stretching prior to exercise
• Muscle fatigue or exercising in the heat
Although muscle cramps can occur anywhere in the body, it often develops in leg muscles, particularly in the calf. You may experience a sudden intense pain associated with hard lump of muscle tissue beneath your skin. The muscle may be tender to touch too. You may also experience a disturbance in the functioning of the muscle, such as difficulty in grasping or writing if hand muscle is affected, or difficulty in walking when the calf or foot are affected.
Who Are At Risk Of Muscle Cramps?
Although muscle cramps can occur to anybody, irrespective of gender and age, it is the older population that is most affected. This is because, with age, you tend to lose muscle mass, and so the remaining muscle can get strained easily.
If you have diabetes, nerve disorder, liver or thyroid disorders, you may be at higher risk of muscle cramps. Athletes and overweight people are also at risk of muscle cramps.
Foods That Help Cure Muscle Cramps
Generally, muscle cramps can be managed and cured at home through self-care. Often, if dehydration or vitamin and mineral deficiencies are the causes of your cramps, they can be easily resolved by incorporating some dietary changes. Muscle tissues are dependent on a range of electrolytes and minerals in order to relax and contract. Factors such as dehydration and poor diet can disturb the natural mineral and electrolyte balance in the body, making the muscle more susceptible to cramping.
We have compiled here for you 14 foods that could be of help in curing muscle cramps and prevent their recurrence.
Bananas are rich in potassium, the mineral that helps your body break down carbs and build muscle. Potassium is vital for proper functioning of muscles and nervous system, and your muscles may cramp if you are deficient. Apart from potassium, they also give you calcium and magnesium which you need to ease muscle cramps. A daily serving of foods rich in potassium such as banana can banish leg cramps and prevent its recurrence.
2. Sweet Potatoes
Just like bananas, sweet potatoes too are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. In fact, they have six times more calcium than bananas. Even the regular potatoes and pumpkins have these nutrients, and they have plenty of water content too, thereby helping you remain hydrated. So, if dehydration is the cause of your cramps that would be taken care off too.
3. Beans And Lentils
Beans and Lentils are rich in magnesium. A cup of cooked lentils comprises 71 mg of magnesium, while a cup of cooked black beans has double (120 mg) the amount of magnesium. Moreover, they are loaded with fibre that can help ease menstrual cramps.
Melons are loaded with potassium, magnesium and calcium, apart from high water content and little sodium. When you sweat during your exercise session, your body can lose sodium and water, leading to dehydration and cramps. So eating a cup of melons (particularly watermelon) after a workout session can be of help.
5. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli are rich in calcium and magnesium, and adding them to your food will help prevent muscle cramps. These greens also help with menstrual cramps, as some studies have proven that being rich in calcium, they can provide relief from menstrual aches and pains.
6. Nuts And Seeds
Just as lentils, nuts and seeds are great sources of magnesium. Just 1 oz (28.3 g) of toasted sunflower seeds contains 37 mg of magnesium, while there is double this magnesium content in just 1 oz of roasted almonds. Various other nuts and seeds also contain calcium and magnesium in sufficient measures. So make sure to include them in your diet.
If poor blood circulation is the cause of your muscle cramp, it can be rectified by eating oily fish like salmon, as 3 oz portion of cooked salmon gives 326 mg of potassium and 52 mg of sodium that help deal with muscle cramps. If you are not a salmon fan, you can try sardines.
Avocados are among the best foods for your muscle cramps, due to the presence of potassium. They also contain heart-healthy fats. So try incorporating slices of avocado into your sandwiches to replace the electrolytes lost when sweating, and to relieve your cramps naturally.
This potassium-rich food is also high in water content. So if you can sip just one cup of tomato juice, you would have already met 15% of your daily requirement for potassium. It also keeps your body hydrated preventing the occurrence of cramps.
Celery is a rich source of sodium, thereby helping with the maintenance of fluid balance in the body, apart from being great for muscle cramps. Sodium helps with nerve impulse generation and muscle contraction. Our body draws nutrients, including salt, from itself, after a hard activity. Hence, eating foods such as celery can help you with a natural boost of sodium.
High-glycemic fruits like kiwi and pineapple are good for muscle cramps, particularly if consumed after a workout session, as it helps to rehydrate and replenish the glycogen levels, which is the source of energy for muscles. Further, the antioxidants in these fruits help with tissue repair and recovery. They are good for relieving inflammation and pain too.
Papaya is the best fruit for an energy boost. Just one papaya contains 781 mg of potassium, meeting 16% of your daily required value of potassium. When paired with a protein like low-fat yogurt, it helps replenish electrolytes and repairs muscles.
They are a good source of protein, with a high concentration of 'leucine', an amino acid, necessary for muscle building. Eggs can help in reducing inflammation and soreness in your body, as they provide antioxidants like zeaxanthin, selenium and lutein.
Low-fat milk, yogurt and other dairy products are rich in calcium that is vital for bone health. Calcium is also crucial for muscular contraction, deficiency of which can accelerate your risk of muscle cramps. Therefore, if you want to ease muscle pain naturally, do not overlook milk and yogurt.
Note: Apart from eating these foods, drink plenty of water as it helps maintain circulation and flushes out cramp-causing waste products from your muscles.