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We’ve probably all experienced it: a sudden sharp pain in the calf or a hamstring that makes us breathe. Known as Charlie the Horse, this happens when a muscle, often in the leg, suddenly contracts and tightens tightly. This often happens after a long or intense workout, especially in hot weather, but cramps can also strike out of nowhere.
They can be caused by dehydration, fatigue, overexertion or depletion of electrolytes, which cause nerve rupture; they usually disappear within 15 minutes, tend to become more common with age, and are more common in women than in men. If the cramps last more than 30 minutes, call your doctor, as this may be a sign of a more serious problem such as a narrowed artery or a neurological condition, says Dr. Bryant Walrod, a sports physician at Ohio State University Wexner. Medical Center.
Try these steps to keep your muscles relaxed and the pain aside.
How to prevent muscle cramps
✔️ Increase your fitness.
We lose muscle mass and strength in our 30s, which contributes to fatigue and overexertion – key triggering spasms. “Regularly active muscles get used to contractions and are less prone to spasms,” said Matthew Matawa, Ph.D., chief of sports medicine at the University of Orthopedics in Washington, D.C.
Start with moderate activity to avoid overdoing it, and stretch before and after; this increases blood flow and lengthens muscle fibers to make them less likely to tighten involuntarily.
✔️ Take your minerals.
Load up on fruits and vegetables rich in electrolyte minerals such as sodium, magnesium and potassium, which help trigger electrical signals that regulate muscle function. “Most people can get all the electrolytes they need in a healthy diet,” says Dr. Matawa, so there’s no need to drink sugary sports drinks. Best foods: leafy vegetables, bananas and black beans.
The fluid helps the muscles to relax and contract, so down a lot of water throughout the day, especially in hot weather, when sweat depletes the body’s fluid and electrolyte stores. Remember to drink an hour before, during and after a rehydration workout.
How to get relief from muscle cramps
✔️ Work with these muscles.
Gently massage and stretch a narrow muscle to help it relax. “Try to contract the muscle group opposite to the one that spasms; this uses the body’s normal reflex, which “switches off” a muscle that has the opposite function, “says Dr. Matawa. For example, contraction of the quadriceps muscle in the front of the thigh can help relieve spasms of the back muscles of the back.
✔️ Apply heat or ice.
A warm towel or heating pad can help soothe the ear by increasing blood flow. If the pain persists after spasms, ice can help control inflammation and relieve discomfort.
✔️ Manage your medications.
Muscle cramps can be a side effect of some medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and asthma. Talk to your doctor about a lower dose or other medicine that does not cause muscle spasms.
This article first appeared in the September 2020 issue. Prevention.
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