Muscle cramps happen to everyone, whether you’re a star athlete or just getting in your weekly cardio at the gym. But just because they’re common doesn’t mean they don’t hurt -- nor does it mean they’re unavoidable, or that they happen for no reason.
At Barrington Orthopedic Specialists, we want our patients to understand what’s going on in their bodies when they hurt. Here are a few reasons why you may be experiencing muscle cramps, as well as some tips on how you can prevent them from happening in the future:
Your Muscles Are Dehydrated
One of the most common reasons why you may experience muscle cramps during and after exercise is dehydration. This becomes a particular risk during the summer months, when hot weather can sap the water and electrolytes from your body even quicker than usual. While external heat can certainly be a factor, the heat that creates muscle dehydration actually comes from your muscles themselves. As you use them, they create friction within your body, and can ultimately seize due to their own heat. To you, this occurrence feels like a painful cramp.
If you’re looking to prevent muscle cramps due to dehydration, the answer is fairly simple: hydrate the rest of your body! Be sure you’re drinking the appropriate amount of fluids for your body type, activity level, and environmental conditions. This is especially important during periods of exercise.
The Muscle Has Been Strained
Muscle strains are common injuries, but sometimes, you don’t know you’ve strained a muscle until you try to use it during exercise and you’re met with a painful cramp. Strains can happen for a wide variety of reasons, some of which seem relatively low-impact -- maybe you slept on the muscle in an improper position, used it extensively after a sedentary period, or overworked it on the job or during a previous exercise session.
Regardless of the source of your strain, one of the best ways to prevent the injury from happening in the first place is by stretching your muscles every day. It’s imperative to stretch sufficiently before any sort of exercise -- muscles that haven’t been properly warmed up are stiff, making them significantly more susceptible to injury than stretched, flexible tissue.
You Have an Underlying Condition
Muscle cramps are common, and they’re rarely cause for concern -- but there are a few significant underlying conditions for which chronic muscle cramping can serve as a red flag. These conditions include:
- Nerve compression: Cramping can be a symptom of lumbar stenosis, a condition in which the nerves in your spine can become compressed and cause pain in the lower extremities.
- Narrowed arteries: Certain cardiovascular conditions can cause the arteries that deliver blood to your legs to contract, causing cramps when you attempt to exercise.
- Mineral deficiencies: If your body isn’t receiving enough calcium, magnesium, or potassium as part of your regular diet, you may be more susceptible to leg cramping.
Not all cramps should be cause for alarm, but if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, it may be time to see an orthopedic specialist:
- Your cramps cause severe pain and discomfort
- Your cramps seem to come out of nowhere
- Your cramps are chronic, happening constantly
- Your muscles also feel weak and fatigued
- Your legs are also swollen or red
- Your cramps are not improving even with preventative measures
If you’re concerned about the severity or frequency of your muscle cramps, or you’re unsure about best practices for preventing cramps during exercise, the Fitness Enhancement Programs at Barrington Orthopedic Specialists can help. Our fitness enhancement programs were designed to give you the guidance you need to exercise safely and meet your individual goals!
To be scheduled with a physician at Barrington Orthopedic Specialists, contact our office at (847) 285-4200 or schedule online here.
For urgent needs when our physician’s offices are closed, visit our Immediate Orthopedic Care (IOC) in Schaumburg, Illinois.