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Expert offers tips to alleviate, avoid muscle cramps

April 3, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Everyone gets muscle cramps. Some people get them more often than others. It can happen when you work out, when you're walking, even when you're asleep. But there are things you may do that actually make it worse. Here's what to do, and what not to do, to cure those muscle cramps.

"A muscle cramp is an involuntary contraction of the muscle so much more powerful than you can actually do on your own," said Andrew Pritikin, a doctor of physical therapy, Pritikin Physical Therapy.

Pritikin says a prime example is a foot cramp. Most people try to stretch out their toes, but that's not the correct way to fix it.

"The actual muscle is located back here [up the leg above the ankle]. And so when you get those foot cramps, what you do is you have to physically put your fingers on the back side of that tibia, and you push in," said Pritikin.

A "charley-horse" can happen in any of the four muscles of the hamstrings.

"The natural reaction is to bend the knee to make it shorter to get rid of the pain, but that's only going to prolong it. You actually have to force yourself to elongate it and then keep the toes pointed up and stretch out," said Pritikin.

No one knows for sure what causes painful muscle cramps, but there are theories. The first is muscle fatigue.

"It shortens up the joint and the muscle gets shorter and shorter, creating a lot of pain," said Pritikin.

The second possible cause is dehydration. Pritikin says caffeine could cause cramps because it robs your body of water.

"For every one cup going in, a diuretic will have one-and-a-half-cups going out," said Pritikin. "And so coffee and soda, those really don't count as rehydration."

Another theoretical cause is electrolyte imbalance of potassium, chloride and magnesium. The nerves need electrolytes in order to conduct impulses to the muscles.

"Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. That's really where you get your main source. Bananas is always the standard for getting potassium into your body," said Pritikin.

One electrolyte replenisher many elite athletes use: Low-fat chocolate milk, a tasty way to keep muscle cramps at bay.


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