Updated: Sep 9, 2022
I’m often asked about what to do for muscle cramps, so here is some information for you. Almost everyone experiences a muscle cramp at some time in their life. A cramp can last a few seconds to 15 minutes and then re-cramp multiple times before it finally stops. Some happen at rest (like those annoying ones in bed) and others are caused by exercise (sometimes starting hours after activity).
In general, muscle cramps can be prevented by adequate nutrition and hydration, but sometimes that’s not enough.
If your levels of calcium or magnesium are low, your nerve endings can get excited and activate the muscles they control. This is likely the case for older adults, pregnant women, diuretic users, hyperventilation, vomiting, diets low in calcium and/or magnesium, or vitamin D deficiency (poor calcium absorption). Deficiency of Vitamins B1, B5, and B6 can also cause cramps. Low potassium occasionally causes muscle cramps, but it is more likely to cause muscle weakness. Many medications can cause cramps, so be sure to read the side effects information.
Most cramps can be stopped if the muscle can be stretched, gently massaged, or applying a heating pad or hot tub. Preventative stretching before and after exercise along with a proper warm-up and cool-down is recommended. If you exercise vigorously more than an hour, then replacing lost electrolytes (sodium and potassium), pre-hydration and eating salt-containing food is needed.
Night time and resting cramps can often be prevented by daily stretching, particularly before going to bed. Even if you take calcium each day, an extra dose of calcium at bedtime may help prevent cramps. Daily magnesium (100-500mg per day), including a dose before bedtime is helpful. Take 400 mg of Vitamin E daily. Quinine is sometimes recommended as quinine water (tonic water) prior to bedtime.
Dr. Rick Schlussel is a Chiropractor and Applied Kinesiologist providing preventive health care, treatment for pain and injuries, holistic health assessments and a variety of natural therapies. He can be reached at Presence Wellness Center and Spa at 530-889-0388 or by email at email@example.com