Muscle Cramps Causes & Treatment
Muscle cramps are an involuntary and often painful contraction of muscle. They are extremely common, particularly in the legs where they mainly affect the gastrocnemius, hamstring and quadriceps muscle groups. They also commonly affect the feet, hands, arms, abdomen and ribcage. They may affect any age and may occur either with activity or at rest.
Causes and Risk factors of Muscle Cramps
- Overuse of muscle
- Excessive exercise
- Mineral imbalance: Magnesium, Sodium, Calcium
- Kidney failure
- Certain medications e.g. diuretics
TREATMENT STRATEGY FOR MUSCLE CRAMPS
- Identify underlying cause
- Ensure adequate fluid and electrolyte intake
- Ensure adequate mineral intake
- Ensure proper acid-alkaline balance
- Stimulate peripheral circulation
Diet plan guidelines for Muscle Cramps
Ensure adequate fluid and electrolyte intake (especially if very active):
- Sodium and chloride: cramps can sometimes result from sodium chloride deficiency, especially in very active people or in hot climates. Include a good quality unrefined sea salt in the diet, which generally has a better mineral profile than table salt with no additives.
- Potassium: found in fruit and vegetables, especially bananas, sweet potatoes, avocadoes, dried fruit, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, raw cacao, etc.
- Calcium: dairy foods, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, bony fish, tofu, tahini
- Magnesium: green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, raw cacao
- Coconut water: an excellent source of fluid and electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium
- Fresh fruit and vegetable juices are also a good source of fluid and minerals
Supplements that support Muscle Cramps
- Magnesium – to reduce muscle spasm and promote relaxation
- NB The calcium to magnesium ratio should be no more than 2:1. In the case of spasmodic muscle cramps, there should be less calcium relative to magnesium (e.g. 1:1). While calcium deficiency may be a factor, ensure that the patient isn‘t receiving too much calcium relative to magnesium (e.g. if taking calcium supplements)
- Potassium – a balanced diet should provide adequate potassium, but supplementation maybe indicated in patients on diuretic medications
- Vitamin E – may be useful in impaired circulation
- CoQ10 – associated with exercise or statin medication
- Iron – may be useful in restless leg syndrome; need to assess iron status first
- Spasmolytic – crampbark, valerian
- Circulatory stimulant, peripheral vasodilator – prickly ash, ginkgo
Lifestyle / Physical measures
- At first sign of cramp, stop and stretch muscle
- Apply heat to cramping muscles
- Ensure adequate fluid and electrolyte replacement when exercising
- Yoga to ensure flexibility of muscles
Functional Medicine treatment of Muscle Cramps
Muscle cramps will usually be resolved with some additional electrolytes, some massage and stretching. Where muscle cramps have become chronic, are excessive when considering the level of activity or do not resolve with the common treatment methods then further investigation is often required.
Underlying inflammation, mineral imbalances, menstrual cycle irregularities, gut infections, parasites, mold exposure, and other toxic conditions can all cause excessive cramps. Investigation into the causes are required, most often patients with excessive cramping have other conditions that are affecting their body.
At our Perth clinic of Advanced Functional Medicine we treat the root cause of disease and address any underlying conditions that manifest in chronic and unexpected cramping as well as in muscular aches and pains.
If you have a chronic issue with your muscle, bones, joints or ligaments that is not being resolved through the traditional hands on methods such as massage and physio we would love to hear from you. What are your best remedies for cramps? Do you suffer from chronic cramping with minimal exercise?