Muscle cramps can be caused by muscle fatigue, improper fluid intake or electrolyte imbalances. Learn why this is so and what natural remedies are available for muscle cramps..
Nothing is worse than a muscle cramp. It occurs quickly and hurts like hell.
Muscle cramps often occur during sports, but not always. In fact, it can happen at any time - for example, many people get calf cramps in the middle of the night.
What causes muscle cramps? Is it dehydration, electrolyte deficiency, muscle fatigue, drugs, or neuromuscular dysfunction?
Unfortunately, the answer is that all of these are possible causes. There are many debates on this topic, but depending on the situation, different things can cause this painful symptom..
For example, if a group of athletes experience cramping after a sweaty workout, it is likely a sodium problem. (When athletes drink salty water, the cramps subside.)But if a person is well hydrated and still cramps, the fault must lie elsewhere.
Today we're going to look at muscle cramps, but it's a hands-on nerd session. You'll learn not only what causes muscle cramps, but also what you can do about them.
What is a muscle cramp?
A muscle crampis a sudden, painful contraction of a muscle. These can last from a few seconds to several minutes. The after effects, such as muscle stiffness or soreness, can last for days..
The muscle groups that cramp most often are in the legs, feet, hands, and abdominal muscles. About 80% of cramps occur in the calf. Exactly why calf cramps are so popular, however, is not clear..
Muscle cramps affect not only your muscles, but your entire body. They can even affect your emotional state.
It's hard to predict when a muscle cramp will occur. Only one thing is certain - it occurs quickly, and the warning signs are vague and unreliable.
Nevertheless, researchers have identified a handful of risk factors for muscle cramps. Let's take a look at those risk factors before we get into the specific causes.
Risk factors for muscle cramps.
Certain diets and activities favor muscle cramps more than others. Even genetics can play a role in muscle cramps.
In the diet category, the keto diet is a risk factor for muscle cramps. Muscle cramps are part of the constellation of symptoms - headaches, cramps, brain fog, fatigue and constipation - that is called the keto flu..
Why are keto consumers more likely to have cramps? Because the ketogenic diet tends to lack electrolytes, which are important for muscle function. More on this shortly.
Fatiguing exercise is another risk factor for muscle cramps. When muscles get tired, they seem to become more prone to cramping..
For example, in 82 marathon runners, all crampsoccurred after about 24 kilometers. There were no problems before that, presumably because the muscles were less fatigued at that point..
Another analysisof 1300 marathon runners found that fatigue is a risk factor for cramps. The runners who trained harder than normal had a higher risk of cramping..
The risk of muscle cramps increases when athletes train in the heat. The hotter the workout session, the more sodium is lost through sweat and the more likely the athlete is to cramp.
This has been demonstrated in various populations. American football players, for examplegot 95% of their cramps when it was hot. Most of these cramps occurred during the first week of training camp, when the weather was hottest and the athletes were least in shape.
It's not surprising that sweat loss is a risk factor. In warm climates, athletes can lose up to 7 grams of sodium per day through sweating. Such loss can lead to cramps if the sodium is not replaced..
In addition to keto, exercise and sweat loss, there are other risk factors for muscle cramps:.
- Age .
- Basic chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, cancer, kidney disease, etc.)
- Allergies .
- Taking medications
- History of injuries .
- Family history of muscle spasms
Let's go one level deeper and look at what might cause muscle cramps.
What causes muscle spasms?
Scientists do not know exactly what causes muscle cramps. There are two prevailing theories:
- Cramps are due to a neurological disorder .
- Cramps are caused by inadequate fluid intake
However, the second theory must be broken down into another two parts: a water or fluid part and an electrolyte part. So in total, there are three possible causes.
Let's go through them.
Theory #1: Impaired neuromuscular control.
In the 1980s, researchers noticed that muscle cramps during exercise were not always related to severe sweating. They began looking for other explanations.
One theory was that muscle fatigue triggers a series of events that affect motor neurons. (Motor neurons are brain cells that control voluntary actions.) This impairment shakes the central nervous system, which responds by activating (tightening) the muscle..
Some dataabout athletes support the neuromuscular theory. If you block the motor neurons in athletes who are prone to cramps, it takes greater electrical stimulation to trigger a cramp. So the motor neurons are clearly involved.
However, the theory has gaps. If muscular fatigue triggers this problem, why do only a small percentage of marathon runners develop cramps? They all get tired, but only a few have cramps..
Theory #2: Dehydration.
Muscle cramps are a well-documented symptom of dehydration. But is dehydration (net water loss) an important cause of muscle cramps during exercise?
Most websites on hydration say yes. According to a 2016 studyon misinformation about hydration, 98% of websites say that dehydration causes muscle cramps during exercise.
The truth is, however, that there is little evidence to support this theory. One studyshowed that even severe hypohydration (loss of more than 5% of body water) does not increase the incidence of muscle cramps.
The real problem is overhydration. To prevent dehydration, many athletes drink beyond their thirst, diluting sodium levels in the blood. This can lead to cramps.
Theory #3: Electrolyte imbalance.
Electrolytesare minerals that conduct electricity in your nervous system and keep your body fluids balanced. That's important: Electrolytes are crucial for muscle contraction and relaxation..
A deficiency in the following electrolytes is the most common cause of cramps:.
- Sodium .
Sodium deficiency is probably the main reason for muscle cramps during exercise. If the sodium lost through sweat is not replaced - and if the athlete consumes too much water - cramps are likely to occur..
The first evidencethat sodium deficiency causes muscle cramps comes from sweaty, cramped construction and steel mill workers in the 1920s. When these workers were given salt supplements, the frequency of cramps decreased..
Recent research has found that soccer players with higher concentrations of sodium in their sweat are more prone to cramps. Kidney patients on dialysis also have more cramps when they receive low-sodium fluids. When electrolytes are normalized, cramps decrease..
Finally, low sodium explains many ketogenic muscle cramps. Ketotolerant people not only consume less sodium in their diet, but also excrete more sodium through their urine. This is a formula for electrolyte deficiency.
Natural remedies for muscle cramps.
One of the best-known remedies for cramps is the drug quinine. But I don't recommend quinine. It has too many serious side effects..
I recommend a more natural approach that focuses on rest and hydration. Here are my tips:
Muscle fatigue is a risk factor for muscle cramps. That doesn't mean you shouldn't work your muscles out (because that's the only way you'll get stronger). It just means you should be careful when pushing your limits. Adequate recovery time between workouts will also reduce the risk of muscle injury..
Stretch, massage, and heat.
Some research suggests that shorter stretching times are a risk factor for muscle cramps. Another study found no correlation.
I don't know what to make of this. I am a fan of dynamic stretching (i.e. moving in different positions) rather than static stretching. Dynamic stretching promotes mobility and flexibility.
Heat and massage can also relieve cramps. This could be a placebo effect, but massage can't hurt..
Increase your intake of electrolytes.
Whenever you can, consume electrolyte-rich foods to prevent deficiencies and cramps.
When you're on a keto diet, you have to make an extra effort to get enough sodium, potassium, and magnesium without eating carbs. That means lots of spinach, kale and salt. Steamed kale with salt is delicious. More vegan ketogenic recipes,here.
Hydrated with electrolyte mixtures.
To prevent cramps, add electrolytes to your water when you rehydrate. Look at the evidence:
- Salt supplementsreduce convulsions in workers in the early 20th century.
- Men who drank an oral rehydration solution (containing electrolytes and fluid) after a hot workout hadfewer crampsthan men who drank only water.
- Soccer playerswho drank electrolyte-enriched sports drinks had fewer cramps than those who drank only water.
- Drinkingcucumber juice (high in sodium) prevents muscle cramps in dehydrated people.
But you don't necessarily have to drink cucumber juice, because it's not to everyone's taste. Just add salt to your water or mix in a stick le melo. Just sip it against thirst throughout the day. The likelihood that you get cramps just drastically reduced..