Charley Horses, Cramps, and Spasms, Oh My!

Runner with Leg Cramp yellingI am one of those unfortunate souls that suffer from cramps and spasms in my feet, in my calves, and sometimes in my neck or back! I attribute the neck and back spasms to sitting at the computer and staring straight ahead for more hours than my body can handle. But, why do I get them in my feet and my calves? It’s not like I’m doing ballet or anything strenuous. I sit most of the day. As a matter of fact my muscles are in desperate need of some real work! So, what is it that causes these painful spasms that seem to strike at any given moment?

Here are some reasons why our muscles end up in spasm leaving us writhing in pain, while screaming expletives.

Dehydration: My mother would tell me over and over “Drink more water!” because I never drank quite enough. Dehydration can cause a whole list of ailments from headaches and dry skin to muscle spasms. I admit that I rarely drink the required 8 glasses of water per day. And when I do, the fluid usually contains some caffeine which defeats the purpose! Drinking more fluids helps to hydrate the muscles by keeping them from going into spasm mode. I am sipping decaffeinated herbal tea as I type this right now.

Bare feet walking on desert ground

Nutritional Deficiencies: The lack of potassium and/or magnesium is a common deficiency that can cause muscle spasms and cramps. Eating foods rich in calcium, magnesium, and potassium can help to reduce symptoms or even eliminate them all together. Calcium and magnesium work together to help each other with absorption. There are also topical gels and creams that can be used when it comes to taking magnesium or you can take an oral supplement. Most people are deficient in magnesium, due to the lack of nutrition in our soils these days.

Side Effects from Prescription Drugs: I’m not a big fan of taking prescription drugs. If I can find a supplement or nutritional way of resolving my issues then I would rather take that route instead. Prescription drugs have far too many side effects for my liking. Some prescription drugs that cause muscle cramps include: Lasix (furosemide), Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide), Aricept (donepezil), Proventil and Ventolin (albuterol), and the list goes on.

Prolonged Exercise: I am pretty sure this does not apply to me, but if you are very athletic or do heavy lifting, etc. you may be prone to muscle cramps. This may happen if you push yourself past your limits. As your muscles become overly stressed and depleted of calcium they can’t relax and they start to spasm. The body needs to expend energy in order to send the signals to the muscles telling them to relax. If you have expended too much energy, this signal gets ignored and the muscles remain contracted.

athletic swimmer doing butterfly stroke

Lack of Exercise: Who would have known that on the other end of the spectrum, not enough exercise, you can get muscle cramps as well! The lack of blood flow and muscle movement from being sedentary can cause the muscles to become short and stiff, leaving them prone to injury from simple movements. Muscle strains and tears can cause cramping and pain. It’s best to get moving and to incorporate some form of physical strength training into your life to avoid tight, weak, and injury prone muscles.

Now that you are aware of what the causes may be, take steps to avoid those nasty Charley Horses! Eat healthy, get enough calcium, magnesium, and potassium in your diet. Most likely you will need to supplement here, as most people don’t get nearly the amount that they need. Don’t over exert yourself physically, but don’t be a couch potato, either! Oh, and drink up…at least eight glasses of water per day. Here’s to our good health!

By Colleen Moriarty, DR Vitamin Solutions