The Fitness Zone
Muscle cramps are essentially involuntary contractions. Something causes a nerve or group of nerves to activate, and under normal circumstances the brain would then signal for the muscle to relax. However, during a cramp the message isn't sent clearly, and the contractions continue until a painful cramp occurs.
Although painful and inconvenient, you can relieve most muscle cramps within minutes by gently massaging or stretching the affected area. However, the jury is still out on the specific cause of muscle cramps, although there are several theories. Sarah Klein of The Huffington Postexplained them:
- Overexertion - A common theory is that cramps are simply indicative of an overtired muscle, often caused by exercise that isolates a particular muscle.
- Dehydration - While this is a popular word-of-mouth explanation, the science doesn't exactly agree with the dehydration theory. Although dehydration certainly causes imbalances, these affect the whole body, not just one muscle. However, dehydration could increase susceptibility to cramping when there is also a deficiency of key minerals such as potassium and magnesium present.
- Medication - There are a number of medications that list muscle cramps as a side effect, so be sure to read labels carefully.
- External trigger - Something as simple as a cool breeze could cause an imbalance that the body would usually otherwise control, and lead to a muscle cramp.
Although in most cases, muscle cramps are nothing to worry about, if you are experiencing them frequently it's important to consult your doctor for further information.