Whether it’s a charley horse or a muscle spasm triggered by overexertion, muscle cramps happen to us all, especially as we age. A muscle cramp is an involuntarily contraction of a muscle that does not relax. The resulting “spasm” can be extremely painful and can last for a few seconds, to a quarter of an hour, or more.
Because dehydration can cause muscle cramps, it’s critical to stay hydrated. Aim to drink at least 64 ounces of pure water every day. If the weather is especially hot or you are active, increase that amount and intersperse your fluid intake with low-sugar drinks that provide electrolytes. Low potassium levels can also trigger muscle cramps. Great dietary sources of potassium include bananas, orange juice, raisins, and sweet potatoes.
Muscle cramps are often the result of overexertion or repetitive movements. You can also “pull” a muscle when trying a new exercise or when moving in an unfamiliar way. One way to guard against these kinds of injuries is to warm up before any physical activity. Try walking for about 10 minutes before your workout. Once your activity is over, it’s wise to gently stretch to discourage cramping later.
Arnica: is a popular homeopathic remedy for muscle pains and spasms. One study of 86 marathon runners in Norway found that those using a homeopathic preparation containing arnica before and after the race experienced less muscle soreness than the runners taking a placebo. Typical dosage: Look for a homeopathic remedy containing arnica at a 30x dilution. To use topically, rub or massage arnica cream or gel freely onto the injured area. Do not use if skin is broken.
Creatine: is an amino acid made by the body, which provides muscles with the energy they need. One clinical trial found that it reduced spasms by as much as 60 percent in patients suffering from frequent muscle cramps. Another clinical study found that five days of creatine monohydrate supplementation significantly reduced the frequency of muscle cramps in professional football players. Typical dosage: 5 grams four times per day for acute muscle cramping. For frequent cramping, take a maintenance dose of 2 grams daily.
Magnesium: is involved in a number of processes that affect muscle function including oxygen uptake, energy production, and electrolyte balance. Making sure you have enough magnesium circulating in your body also helps the nerve endings in the muscles work correctly. This means they are able to relax during a cramping spasm. Typical dosage: 400 mg per day.
Zinc: levels are often low in people who suffer from nighttime cramping. One study reported that zinc supplementation improved cramps in 10 out of 12 patients and in seven of these patients, the cramps completely resolved. Typical dosage: 15 mg per day.