muscle cramps

A muscle cramp is an involuntary, painful contraction of the muscles which produce a hard, bulging muscle. Muscle twitching, also called fasciculation is the result of spontaneous local muscle contractions that are involuntary. The muscle cramp usually only affects the individual muscle groups connected to a particular motor neuron.

The risk of having a muscle cramp increases with age. We’re more likely to develop muscle cramps because of the muscle atrophy that begins to occur in the mid 40s. Muscle atrophy worsens if you’re inactive.

What causes a muscle cramp?

A cramp is caused by a sudden involuntary contraction of a muscle or muscles. Often there is no obvious cause, but it may occur with over exertion or chilling of the muscles, as for example when swimming. Cramps that occur at night are most often caused by inactivity, smoking, or limited blood circulation. It is uncommon for cramp to be due to a serious underlying disorder. A muscle cramp can feel rock hard, but in most cases, the cramp goes away within a few minutes. It is very common for cramps to loosen up and then return several times before they go away completely.

Some common causes are:

  • Muscle fatigue
    • Muscle fatigue is often caused by exercising for excessive periods of time or nutrient deficiencies.
  • Heavy exercise
  • Dehydration
    • Athletes and avid exercisers are prone to develop cramps all the time, with increase in episodes during summer months. Dehydration causes cramping is likely because fluid depletion causes nerve endings to become sensitized triggering contractions in the muscles around the nerve.
    • To prevent cramps, it is important to drink plenty of liquids (preferably water or herbal teas). Drinking water is especially important during hot weather and during physical activity. Stretching exercises can help prevent muscle cramping.
    • One of our favorite drinks to rehydrate is a homemade mixture of honey, sea salt and water. Coconut water is also a great drink for rehydration.  
      • Homemade rehydration drink
        • Ingredients: 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 teaspoon of local raw honey, 1 cup of warm water
        • Directions: mix water, sea salt, and honey together.
  • Pregnancy
    • Pregnancy increases a woman’s risk for leg muscle cramps, especially during the second and third trimesters. This is most likely caused by fluctuations in magnesium and potassium levels.
  • Mineral deficiency
    • Lost electrolytes can also cause muscle cramps. Being low in certain electrolytes and other minerals (iron, calcium, sodium, magnesium, or potassium), causes imbalances can trigger spontaneous cramping.
  • Heat Cramps
  • Diuretics
    • Diuretics is a class of medications used to lower blood pressure. One of the complications of diuretics is muscle cramps. This happens because a side effect of the medication is depletion of fluid and salts.

Some rare causes of muscle cramps are:

  • Drugs such as lithium
  • Alcohol
  • Inflammatory disorders such as polymyositis
  • Tetanus

Can CBD oils help with muscle cramps?

CBD (cannabidiol) has been shown to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief. Added topically via a cream, salve, lotion, oil, or spray (and with directions from your doctor), CBD might reduce muscle spasms caused by inflammation. 

Before using CBD, talk with your doctor or a health care practitioner experienced in recommending CBD or medicinal cannabis. This is important to talk with a doctor so you can have the right dosage and delivery system. If you are considering using CBD to alleviate muscle cramps, ask your doctor these questions

What do do if you have a muscle cramp

If you have a muscle cramp, try to stretch and then relax the effected muscle. Massage, warm baths (preferably with epsom salt), acupuncture and heat packs may also help. If you are feel dehydrated, drink water or coconut water. 

Charley horse vs. muscle cramp

A charley horse is a sudden, painful knot caused by a muscle spasm, and occurs most often affect the back of the lower leg (the calf), the hamstring muscles in back of the thighs or the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thighs. A charley horse may last between a few seconds and  15 minutes or longer, and some recur before subsiding.

Visit your doctor

Visit your doctor if home remedies fail to help and if you have frequent, severe, or worsening episodes of muscle cramping. Muscle cramps can be a symptom of several different conditions. Depending on your diagnosis, you may require a multi-faceted treatment plan. Most causes of muscle cramps can either be cured or managed well. 

Questions to ask your doctor about muscle cramps

  • Are muscle cramps a sign of a serious medical condition?
  • Are my cramps related to an underlying condition
  • Do I need blood tests?
  • What foods are rich in magnesium to prevent muscle cramps?
  • What types of muscle stretches should I do?
  • Are my muscle cramps caused by dehydration?
  • Are the muscle cramps caused by a magnesium deficiency? 
  • Should I be worried about electrolyte levels in my body?
  • Can you test my electrolyte levels?

Treatment options

Muscle cramps can be treated with pain relievers, acupuncture, and muscle relaxers.