Muscle cramps are sudden and involuntary contractions of one or more of the body’s muscles. They often occur at night or at any moment stopped by a sudden Charley horse. These cramps can cause severe pain, making it impossible to move and use the affected muscle/s. They are usually brought on from:
- Long periods of exercise
- Physical labor
- Hot weather
- All can lead to muscle cramps.
- There are medications and certain conditions that can cause muscle cramping. Muscle cramps can be treated at home with self-care.
Affected by muscle cramps
Muscle cramps are common and can happen to anyone, but often occur to:
- Indoor/outdoor physical work employees
- Pregnant women
- The elderly
- Individuals that are overweight
Muscle cramps can be a symptom of a variety of medical issues. It is typically dehydration and muscle strain from overworking/exercising the muscles, but it can also be a sign of medical conditions like:
- Poor circulation
- Mineral depletion low levels of magnesium, calcium, potassium, and choline
- Low electrolyte levels
- Nerve disorders are rare cases, but a pinched nerve or spinal cord injury can cause nerve compression that can lead to cramping
- Tight muscles, this comes from inactivity and not stretching the body causes the muscles to contract involuntarily
- Hypothyroidism, a thyroid gland that is less active than normal can cause cramps
- Liver disease
Muscle cramps can make daily activities difficult if not impossible to perform. They often happen at night affecting proper sleep. This can lead to:
- Pain hangover
- Cautious body behavior – as an individual wants to avoid pain and more cramping they begin to watch how they:
- So as not to cause discomfort, pain, and further cramping, they develop awkward body positions that create more health problems from improper body posture.
Muscle cramps can happen to any muscle of the body. However, they present most often in the:
This is usually sudden, sharp pain. Individuals can also feel or see a lump of muscle tissue under the skin.
When to see a professional
They usually go away on their own not requiring medical care. However, seek medical attention if the cramps:
- Are causing severe discomfort and pain
- Severe swelling, redness, or changes in skin tone
- Muscle weakness is present
- They are occurring frequently
- They do not improve with self-care
- There is no connection with an obvious cause, like intense physical activity/exercise
Choline is a nutrient that just as important but not as well known as B vitamins. Choline has a fundamental role in muscle physiology and low levels could be a cause/contributor of muscle cramping. Choline is well-known for its function as part of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This is a chemical messenger that transmits signals between nerve cells and muscles. Acetylcholine is the physiological link that tells the muscles to contract. This is where medications can interfere with the messaging system.
Most believe that muscle cramps are caused by magnesium deficiency. This is true, but magnesium is not the only nutrient that could present with muscle issues. Choline regulates intracellular calcium and muscle contraction. This is what helps bind calcium proteins to muscle receptors. Choline keeps minerals like calcium available to the muscles so they can use it instantly when they need to contract. For individuals with skeletal muscle issues, which can be muscle cramping, general soreness, or another type of issue, testing for choline status could be the key.
Prevention and Relief
Home self-care for prevention and relief includes:
- Heat or ice application to the muscle/s and affected areas
- Avoiding caffeine
- Drink plenty of water before and during physical activities, indoor/outdoor work, exercise
- Self-massaging the cramped muscle/s
- Stretching before and after physical activities
- Nightly stretching before bed
- Chiropractic maintenance
Body Composition Testing
The information herein is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified health care professional. Our information scope is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, sensitive health issues, functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We provide and present clinical collaboration with specialists from a wide array of disciplines. Each specialist is governed by their professional scope of practice and their jurisdiction of licensure. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for the musculoskeletal system’s injuries or disorders. Our videos, posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate to and support, directly or indirectly, our clinical scope of practice.* Our office has made a reasonable attempt to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research study or studies supporting our posts. We provide copies of supporting research studies available to regulatory boards and the public upon request. We understand that we cover matters that require an additional explanation of how it may assist in a particular care plan or treatment protocol; therefore, to further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to ask Dr. Alex Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900.
Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, CTG*
Licensed in Texas & New Mexico
American Osteopathic Association. Muscle Cramp. Accessed 12/10/2019.
Merck Manual. Muscle Cramps. Accessed 12/10/2019.
Miller, Timothy M, and Robert B Layzer. “Muscle cramps.” Muscle & nerve vol. 32,4 (2005): 431-42. doi:10.1002/mus.20341
Nutrients, July 202