Muscle cramps occur when one or more muscles suddenly undergo an involuntary contraction, which tends to be painful and can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. Most individuals will experience at least one muscle cramp in their lifetime.
The pain from cramping can range from mild to debilitating. The majority of muscle cramps are harmless and pass on their own, but some temporarily disable the affected muscle, and individuals might not be able to relax or move it.
There are a variety of factors associated with muscle cramping. By being aware of the risk factors and taking appropriate precautions, individuals can keep muscle cramps from developing in their body. If the cramp doesn’t go away or causes excruciating pain, individuals should see a doctor.
5 Most Common Causes of Muscle Cramps
Get familiar with the major causes and risk factors linked to of muscle cramps now.
1. Pinched or Compressed Nerves
Pinched or compressed nerves, such as those known as sciatica, can sometimes cause muscle cramps. A slipped or herniated disc is the most common culprit of sciatica. Since it’s shifted out of place, the disc puts increased pressure on the root of the nerve.
When an individual’s spinal nerves become compressed, one of the effects is cramping pain throughout the legs. The longer individuals walk, the worse the pain gets. If individuals experience this kind of pain, the best thing they can do is rest until your muscles relax.
However, there are some circumstances where patients have to keep walking, and when this is the case, they should use a mildly flexed position.
They should imagine they are pushing a shopping cart, and assume the posture they normally would in the grocery store. This can help delay symptom onset, reduce the symptoms currently occurring, and lower the amount of time the cramp lasts.
2. Depletion of Minerals
In addition to needing vitamins, the body needs certain minerals to function properly. Vitamins and minerals make up the majority of essential nutrients.
Essential nutrients must be found through an individual’s diet because they’re necessary for survival, and the depletion of minerals can cause muscle cramps and other symptoms. If individuals have a magnesium, calcium, or potassium deficiency, they’re more likely to develop leg cramps.
Common signs of potassium deficiency are muscle weakness, muscle spasming and cramping, fatigue, digestive issues, heart palpitations, muscle stiffness, tingling or numbness in the extremities, trouble breathing, and unusual mood changes.
Long-term calcium deficiency can cause muscle issues, fatigue, changes to the skin and nails, osteoporosis, osteopenia, severe PMS, tooth decay, irritated or diseased gums, and depression.
Even if they get these minerals through their diet, diuretic medications can sometimes deplete them. Diuretics are often prescribed for high blood pressure, and they work by eliminating fluid in the body.
3. Narrowed Arteries
Narrowed arteries typically cause cramps while an individual is exercising or directly after they finish exercising. The cramps rarely persist for long after they stop exercising and rest. If these cramps do persist, the affected individual might need medical attention.
The legs are supplied with blood through several different arteries. Exercising can cause these arteries to narrow, which means individuals may not receive the blood supply they need.
This is doubly compounded because the muscles need more oxygen during exercise, and oxygen is delivered by red blood cells. Cramps from this phenomenon can occur throughout the legs and feet.
Peripheral artery disease often causes cramping pain in the calves, thighs, or hips. The narrowed arteries are only noticeable during exercise, since the muscles require more oxygen. The cramps in this case are the muscle warning the brain it can’t sustain the current activity level.
Many individuals know feeling thirsty is often a sign of dehydration, but there are other signs of dehydration, including muscle cramps. When the body is depleted of fluid, its natural cooling mechanisms don’t work, leading to overheating and heat illness.
Heat illness is especially common in individuals who exercise in hot conditions. Experts say as individuals get hotter, their muscle cramps will become more intense.
Normally, the body cools itself naturally by releasing fluid and using water to cool off the internal structures, but a lack of water can lead to overheating, similarly to how a car engine overheats if there isn’t any coolant.
The increased temperature causes the muscles to seize up and spasm. Cramping from increased temperature is a serious sign of heat illness and might require emergency treatment. If an individual’s muscles are too hot to function, their internal organs also are.
However, cramping isn’t always the result of increased internal temperature. Electrolyte imbalances, also caused by dehydration, can keep the muscles from adequately performing.
5. Certain Medical Conditions
Certain medical conditions, including diabetes, thyroid conditions, and liver disorder, can increase an individual’s risk of developing muscle cramps. Diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough adequate insulin. Insulin turns sugar into energy cells can use.
If the sugar is staying in the blood instead of being converted to energy, the muscles become starved of resources and can cramp.
Hypothyroidism, which occurs when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, can cause muscle stiffness, weakness, and cramping, as well as a reduction in temperature, depression, and severe lethargy.
Many forms of liver disease can be one of the causes of muscle cramps, but it’s particularly common in cirrhosis. Cramp-fasciculation syndrome is a muscle condition that causes cramping.
Many neurological disorders can also cause muscle spasms, contractures, and dystonia, which can all be mistaken for cramps.