Something as simple as heat or massage can strong-hand cramps into submission. Once the agony is over, it's important to mount an anti-cramp campaign. Your body is probably yearning for potassium, magnesium, and calcium-the trio of minerals that helps regulate activity in your nerves and muscles. (You have potassium aplenty if you eat fruits and veggies, but you may be potassium poor if you're on a high-protein diet.) You'll also need to drink plenty of water and stretch your limits regularly.
Put the Heat On
- Place an electric heating pad or a hot washcloth on the misbehaving muscle to relax the cramp and increase blood flow to the affected tissue. Set the pad on low, apply for 20 minutes, then remove it for at least 20 minutes before reapplying.
- Take a long, warm shower, or soak in the bath.
Press Out Pain
- Find the epicentre of the cramp. Press into this spot with your thumb, the heel of your hand, or a loosely clenched fist. Hold the pressure for 10 seconds, ease up for 10 seconds, then press again. You're doing it right if you feel some discomfort, but not excruciating pain. After a number of repetitions, the pain from the cramp should start to diminish.
Banish Nighttime Leg Cramps
- Before bed, drink a glass of tonic water, which contains quinine, a popular remedy for leg cramps. Research has supported the use of quinine for nocturnal leg cramps, but don't take quinine tablets; they can have serious side effects, such as ringing in the ears and disturbed vision.
- To prevent nighttime calf cramps, try not to sleep with your toes pointed. And don't tuck in your sheets too tightly-this tends to bend your toes downward, activating cramps.
Mind Your Minerals
- Low levels of minerals known as electrolytes-which include Potassium, sodium (Salt), Calcium and Magnesium-can contribute to cramps. You probably don't need any more salt in your diet, but you may need more of the others. Good food sources of magnesium are whole-grain breads and cereals, Nuts, and beans. You can get potassium from most fruits and vegetables, especially Bananas, oranges, and cantaloupes. And dairy foods supply calcium.
- Taking a diuretic for high blood pressure? Your increased need to urinate may be robbing you of potassium. The result: a condition called hypokalemia, which can cause fatigue, muscle weakness, and muscle cramps. Ask your doctor if you can switch to a blood-pressure medication that isn't a diuretic.
- Cramps are often caused by dehydration, so if you're getting frequent cramps, drink more water.
- Mix 1 part wintergreen oil with 4 parts vegetable oil, and massage it into the cramp. Wintergreen contains methyl salicylate (related to aspirin), which relieves pain and stimulates blood flow. You can use this mixture several times a day, but not with a heating pad-you could burn your skin.
When to consult a doctor
Give your doctor a call if the cramp or spasm lasts for more than a day, or if it continues to bother you despite trying home remedies. And call immediately if the spasm occurs in the lower back or neck and is accompanied by pain that radiates down your leg or into your arm.
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