Whether you’re a serious athlete or a weekend warrior, you need to know how to relieve muscle cramp. This involuntary and forcible contraction of the fibers that usually work to let you move to and fro can leave you writhing on the floor and crying like a little girl. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the exact cause is unknown, but researchers believe a cramp occurs when waste products build up in the muscles due to overexertion, dehydration, or the depletion of nutrients like potassium and calcium. When the buildup becomes too great, the spinal cord instructs the muscle to contract without relaxing, and the muscle spasms. The good news is that muscle cramps are usually easy to relieve–-and also easy to prevent.
- You can relieve muscle cramps before they start by taking care of your body. Before you begin any strenuous activity, warm up for 5-10 minutes with a brisk walk or light jog to elevate your heart rate. Then, stretch the major muscle groups most prone to cramping, like hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves, holding each stretch for 30 seconds. Stay hydrated while you’re active and eat healthy snacks like bananas during any exertion that lasts longer than a few hours.
- When a muscle cramp strikes, stop doing whatever triggered it. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it warrants mention. Playing through the pain will not relieve your cramp and could quite possibly make it worse.
- Stretch it out. Gently massage the cramping muscle and apply counter pressure with one of the stretches that follow. Hold the stretch until the spasm stops.
- To relieve a muscle cramp in your quadriceps, sit down. Place the ankle of your opposite leg behind the ankle of your cramping leg. Using as much force as you can, pull back with the ankle of your cramping leg, while applying forward pressure with the opposite leg.
- If your hamstring is in spasm, relieve the muscle cramp by placing the ankle of your cramping leg behind the opposite ankle. Anchor the opposite leg and push hard against it with the cramping leg.
- When your calf cramps, sit or lie down. Place the top of your opposite foot against the instep of your cramping leg and pull the foot of your cramping leg towards you. Push with the opposite foot, using as much pressure as you can, and the extension of the lower leg muscles should relieve the muscle cramp.
- There are two options to relieve an abdominal spasm or a stitch in the side. Lie on your back, placing both arms under the head and grasping both elbows. Raise your head as high as you can and force a deep breath. Count to 8 while you hold it, then slowly release your breath over 8 counts. For a side stitch, perform this stretch while also pulling your head and the elbow on the side where you’re cramping as far to the opposite side as you can.
- After the cramp has subsided, treat the affected area with heat or ice as soon as possible. Apply heat to muscles that feel tense or tight, and ice to sore or tender muscles to relieve pain.
- If none of these suggestions work to relieve your muscles cramps, you may need to see a doctor. This is particularly true if you get severe cramps frequently, or if your cramps are not associated with exercise. Most muscle cramps are benign, but they sometimes indicate a serious medical condition, and a doctor can rule out any serious problems.