A muscle cramp or spasm is an involuntary contraction of a muscle of your body. This contraction is really painful but its effects go away pretty fast. A muscle spasm may affect one single muscle and/or the ones next to him, affecting the whole group. These can happen in any muscle of your body. They are most common on the skeletal muscles, which are in charge of the body motion. Its cells are directly united to the bones or they perform the action through a tendon.
The most popular sites affected by spams are hands, arms, legs, feet, abdomen and all the muscles along the ribcage. These can also appear in the neck and back. They are different from muscle twitches, which are just the uncontrolled movement of an area of a muscle that can be observed through the skin.
The apparition of muscle spasms depends on many factors. Basically, they happen when the cells of the muscular tissue, called myocytes, use all the energy and fluids they have, making them hyperexcitable and producing the energetic and painful contraction.
The most common cause is an extenuating workout, leading to strained, exhausted, overused, and tired muscles. In these cases, there is a higher probability to suffer a spasm. When athletes train in a hot environment they are prone to suffer a cramp too.
Another common cause is dehydration and loss of electrolytes. When you work out, you are obviously going to sweat a lot. Sweat is nothing more than water with some minerals like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Myocytes need these elements to generate a regulated contraction. So, an unusual supply of them becomes irritable for the muscle, generating the spams.
A low level of potassium in the blood (hypopotassemia) itself could lead to muscle cramps, but they are not a specific symptom of it. Actually, spams are more related to low levels of calcium and magnesium. Low levels of vitamins B1, B5, and B6 make you more prone to suffer them too. They can also appear at night. Almost always they appear on the legs while sleeping. The specific cause of the nocturnal cramps is unknown, but it is considered a type of sleep disturbance.
Although muscular spasms do not represent a risk for your health, they can be a symptom of a serious illness like hypothyroidism, type 2 Diabetes mellitus, compression of some nerves, and even circulation problems like atherosclerosis on the extremities. So, if you have them very constantly, and they are painful and enduring, you should go to the doctor.
If you want to avoid or at least reduce the possibilities of suffering a muscle spasm while you are training, there are some things you can do. First of all, you need to keep yourself hydrated. Water helps to keep the myocytes hydrated and less irritable, generating a better muscle contraction.
Another thing you can do to not suffer from cramps is to stretch your muscles before and after doing exercises. This helps to avoid the nocturnal ones too. Many doctors recommend 15 minutes of stretching routines before making exercises or before going to sleep to prevent the cramps.
A great way to prevent the spasms is to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. They have a lot of necessary minerals like calcium and magnesium. As stated above, these ones are essential for a proper contraction of the muscle.
There is not an established routine to follow when you present a muscle cramp, but stretching and giving a rubdown to the affected muscle will help a lot. Another thing you can do is apply some heat or cold on the contracted muscle to reduce the pain.
If you have a spasm in the calf, you will need to put all your weight on the affected leg and flex it a little bit. If you cannot stand up, just lie down and extend the affected leg.
If the cramp is in the quadriceps, you need to take the foot of the affected leg and pull it back up to your glute. This will extend all the muscle group of the quadriceps. Of course, you will need the help of someone or something like a wall or chair to stand up.
These simple tips will help you a lot if you suffer from muscle cramps. Remember, their effects are quick and you will not suffer that much. Even if you do not follow these tips and you just wait, the pain will pass and you will be available to continue doing your exercises.