Everybody experiences muscle cramps at least once in a lifetime. Your back hurts as you bend down to lift a heavy box, or your arm tightens when you stretch up to reach for something placed high on a shelf. During these moments, the muscles contract, leaving you breathless with pain and unable to move.
Muscle cramps occur most often in the legs, arms and back. They happen due to muscle overuse or strain, injury or dehydration, or after a prolonged period of inactivity, such as sitting in the same position for too long. If you suffer from cramps, here are a few self-care methods you can apply at home:
1. Gentle massages. Rub the tightened knots in your cramped muscles slowly and gently in the natural direction of the muscles. This relieves the contracted muscles by improving blood circulation in the affected area.
2. Hot showers. Take a hot shower or a warm bath. Let the hot water flow longer over the cramped areas. Make sure the water temperature is as hot as you can bear, as this helps to relax the muscles.
3. Stretching. For muscle cramps in your calf, stretch your leg with toes pointing upwards and towards the head. Hold this position for 30 seconds. This also eases cramps in the back of the thighs. For cramps in your front thigh, pull your foot on the affected side towards your buttocks and hold for 30 seconds. Plan a good stretching regimen and follow it regularly to prevent future cramps.
4. Cold or heat treatment. Rub an ice pack over the cramped area for ten minutes or until it turns red, an indication that the blood cells are heating the muscles. Alternatively, you can use a heating pad to relax and stimulate blood circulation to the muscles.
5. Healthy diet. If you have muscle cramps often, your body may be lacking certain minerals such as calcium and potassium. Consume high-calcium foods like skim milk and yogurt. Additionally, include potatoes and bananas in your diet to increase your potassium levels. Consult your doctor or nutritionist for advice on a balanced diet plan.
6. Hydration. Dehydration is a common cause of muscle spasms. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to continuously replenish lost fluids.
7. Folk remedies. Chamomile tea contains glycine, an amino acid that relaxes the muscles. Drink five cups (1.2 liters) daily for two weeks to relieve muscle cramps. Honey can prevent recurring foot and leg cramps during the night. Regularly take two teaspoons (10 ml) of honey with meals.
Mustard and pickle juice have acetic acid, which helps produce acetylcholine, a stimulant for your leg muscles. Take a spoonful (15 ml) of mustard or a few ounces (grams) of pickle juice to prevent leg cramps. Apple cider vinegar is rich in potassium. Mix one teaspoon (5 ml) of honey and two teaspoons (10 ml) of vinegar in a glass of warm water and drink this mixture.
An Ayurvedic solution is to saturate a tub of hot water with a homemade teabag of brown or black mustard seeds. Immerse your feet in this tub for 20 minutes to relieve your muscle spasms. Herbal massage oil contains one cup (237 ml) of extra-virgin or almond oil and herbs in tincture form, such as 1/2 ounce (14.2 g) of lobelia, 1 ounce (28.3 g) of cramp bark and 1 1/4 ounce (35.4 g) of willow bark or wintergreen. Store this massage oil in a jar and use it to massage your cramped muscles.
These self-care methods are useful to overcome muscle cramps. Nevertheless, if you are doing everything right and still experiencing cramps, consult your doctor immediately.