No matter what type of shape you're in or your age, we're all prone to those spontaneous, out-of-nowhere muscle cramps that knock you down for a few seconds. It usually comes and goes, but if you've ever wondered what's going on, the Wall Street Journal has some answers.
Picture: Army Medicine/Flickr
In most cases, leg cramps are nothing to worry about, and it usually just has to do with dehydration:
Dehydration, whether due to insufficient fluid intake or sustained and heavy exercise, is a prime and sometimes overlooked culprit, says Dr. Morrissey. Lack of fluids causes a loss of electrolytes — sodium, potassium and calcium, to name a few — and "if your electrolytes are out of whack, you can have spasms."
Other causes include "mechanical stress on muscles" from standing for long periods, or muscle fatigue from walking on a hard surface. Both can result in nocturnal cramps. The toxins ingested by heavy smokers and the electrolyte imbalances that can result from excessive alcohol consumption may also be a source of sudden muscle cramps.
In general, if it's not a sustained or repeating problem, sudden muscle cramps aren't anything to worry about. If you get them infrequently but they're still annoying, you can do a couple simple things to stop muscle cramps from happening:
In large part, Dr. Morrissey says, stay hydrated and maintain a good balance of electrolytes. For people who tend to get muscle cramps at night, he suggests drinking Gatorade or Vitaminwater (both of which contain electrolytes) before retiring at night. Another preventive measure involves doing muscle-strengthening exercises before going to bed.
As for folk cures like salt in your socks or pickle juice? They're probably not more helpful than good old hydration. Head over to the Wall Street Journal for the full breakdown.
Quick Cures/Quack Cures: Mystery Muscle Cramps [Wall Street Journal]