If you’ve ever had a calf cramp, you know how painful muscle cramps can be. We show you the causes of muscle cramps and how you can prevent them.
A muscle cramp, also referred to as a spasm, is the result of a severe, painful contraction of a muscle. It happens involuntarily. The muscle stiffens and we experience a pulling feeling. In the case of a calf cramp, it is almost or completely impossible to step on the floor. After a matter of seconds or minutes, the muscle relaxes again.
Cramping occurs when nerves send unclear impulses from the brain to the muscles. The muscles interpret these incorrectly and cramp up. Cramps (spasms) primarily affect our skeletal muscles, also referred to as striated muscles. However, smooth muscles such as blood vessels, hollow organs and lymph vessels can also cramp up. The only exception is the heart. It is the only muscle that cannot cramp up.
Calf and abdominal cramps are especially well known. There are, however, various other forms:
Electrolytes are small charged particles. They determine how liquid is distributed within the body. They also control the functions of our cells. If the electrolyte concentration in our body is disturbed, for example in the case of a magnesium or sodium chloride deficiency, muscle cramps can occur. This happens if we sweat too much or have too little liquid in our body for other reasons, for instance when we consume alcohol. A shortage of minerals can also develop if our diet isn't right. Muscles can also cramp up, however, if they receive an insufficient blood supply or are too greatly exerted. This can often be seen during a football match. Towards the end of a game, players often suffer cramp in their calves.
The causes are often harmless. However, if you frequently suffer from muscle cramps that last for an extended period and are very painful, this could point to a metabolic disorder or a neurological illness. Consult your doctor in order to rule out serious illnesses.
If you suffer from a muscle cramp, it helps to stretch the muscle in question. In the case of cramp in your calf, pull your toes upwards towards your shin. Contrast showers with hot and cold water or light massaging can also help.
Make sure you have a balanced diet. This ensures your body has all the nutrients it requires. The food pyramid provides you with good guidance here.
A magnesium deficiency can be established with a blood test. This condition can be treated with preparations in powder or tablet form.
When doing sport or during other physical exertion, in particular, make sure to drink enough water or isotonic drinks. Don’t consume alcohol. This draws liquid from the body.
Warm up your muscles before sport. Start your training at a low level of intensity or complete warm-up exercises. Skipping or jumping jacks, for example, are suitable here.
Stretching doesn’t only have to be done before or after training. You can also incorporate the exercises in your daily routine.
Tip: If you regularly suffer from calf cramps during the night, complete your stretching exercises in the evening.
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