Last month I discussed a particular type of leg cramp called a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) that can be life threatening if not addressed and corrected early on (if you haven't read last month's article yet, catch it here). This month I'd like to continue the conversation and discuss some other causes of cramps and what can be done to alleviate them, or prevent them altogether.
When somebody tells me they are getting cramps or a recurring Charley horse, my first question is always, “How much water are you drinking?”
The most common answer: “Probably, not as much as I should.”
I have a very strong conviction that whenever you have a health concern, you must first evaluate whether you are doing the basics with regard to health practices. Are you eating enough? Are you exercising, or moving in general, or stretching regularly? Are you getting enough rest? And most importantly, are you drinking enough water?
The concept here is that if you are not doing the basics, it's very hard to make an accurate determination of what is causing your problem. So many things can cause cramping or dizziness or bloating or back pain that, as long as you are doing the essentials, you can at least remove them (or lack of doing them) as potential contributors. Get the reasoning here? If you are not doing the basics, you are susceptible to so many different disorders that it really can become a crap shoot when trying to figure out how to solve any particular health problem.
So, with regard to muscle cramps, the first step is to make sure you are drinking enough water – two liters per day is the minimum. You've got go to buy a two-liter bottle of water (or two one-liter bottles if you freak out easily) to see exactly how much this is. Then drink this much every day.
But spread it out – don't try to drink it all in one or two sittings. Instead, try drinking a little every hour. You'll see that it's not really all that much; at least not once you get used to it.
I can't say it enough: If you do this one simple thing, you'll prevent so many health issues that you'll kick yourself for not having done it sooner.
Everything from dizziness, to fatigue, to cramps, to an insatiable appetite can be remedied – or prevented – by just drinking enough water.
Sports Replacement Drinks
The next thing to think about is your salt levels. Wait! Isn't salt bad? Hasn't the evening news told us that for decades? Wrong. We need salt. Sodium, a constituent of table salt, is important for blood pressure regulation and proper nerve and muscle function. When blood plasma levels get low, cramping can result. Sodium is an electrolyte, a substance containing free ions that behaves as an electrically conductive medium. We need a proper balance of the electrolytes sodium, chloride, and potassium for our nerves and muscles to fuction properly, but we regularly lose these ions in our sweat. A great way to replenish lost electrolytes is by drinking a sports replacement drink, like Gatorade. Drinking one sports replacement drink a week should be very helpful to relieve and prevent muscle cramps. But make sure to drink these beverages primarily when you're physically active, since they are carbohydrate high and might cause weight gain if you drink them solely while surfing channels.
Another mineral which you might need to supplement if cramping is a problem is magnesium. Magnesium plays an integral role in muscle relaxation by blocking calcium channels, thus preventing calcium from exciting nerves and, consequently, contracting muscles. If you are suffering from cramps, take a good magnesium supplement, and you may notice them subside within a day or two. Here is a decent magnesium supplement that I happen to like.
The final thing that you should consider if you are cramping a lot is your current state of flexibility. Are you stretching regularly? Short, tight muscles fatigue easier and are prone to spasms and cramping. This is especially true if you are a regular exerciser. Think about it. If you are exercising but not stretching, your muscles are getting tighter every day. Then you exercise again, expecting those short, tight muscles to handle the same load day after day, week after week. They are bound to fatigue. And fatigued muscles eventually cramp.
If you want to prevent recurring cramps, stretch regularly. If you are currently experiencing cramps, you have to either relax them with a self-massage or go see your chiropractor, immediately, and he or she can do it for you. Once the initial spasm is worked out, you've got to stretch that muscle and get length into it, or it's just going to happen again.
So there you have it. If spasms are cramping your style, then try the above tips. These four things are the most common causes of cramps. Remember, if you are doing the basics and the problem persists, then you can at least rule out these four agents as the primary source. You'll certainly help your doctor figure out a diagnosis, since he or she can look into other things instead of wondering whether you are doing the fundamentals.
- August 2, 2007
*COMING OCTOBER 2007
The Six Keys to Optimal Health by Dr. Nicolas Campos
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The Six Keys to Optimal Health by Dr. Nicolas Campos
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