Condition Spotlight: Muscular Cramps

Don't let your muscles cramp your lifestyle--learn about home-based remedies to relieve the pain.
Brooke Holmgren

Muscles are what make movement possible, but when a cramp strikes or becomes chronic, moving becomes downright painful and nearly impossible. Muscle cramps are fairly common—many people experience them every day, but they can be easily avoided and treated with simple, home-based remedies.

Muscle cramps may feel similar to strained or overworked muscles, but have distinct symptoms such as tightness, discomfort, pain, and sometimes a tingling and/or burning sensation around the affected area. You may even feel or see a lump underneath the skin. A strained or pulled muscle typically results in swelling while muscle cramps do not. An overworked muscle tends to twitch and may be sore, but not as acutely painful as a muscle cramp.

People are more susceptible to muscle cramping if they lead a sedentary lifestyle, eat too few magnesium- rich foods, or eat too much refined sugar, animal protein, and processed food. Cramps may also result from a long hike, a slipped disk, or pregnancy. This being said, proper nutrition is key to muscle health.

A variety of approaches can be taken to treat muscle cramps. Diet and nutrition are essential, as insufficient nutrients are a common cause. Eating foods high in calcium and magnesium, such as leafy green vegetables, fruits, yogurt, kefir, millet, and sesame seeds are appropriate. Certain foods such as meat, liver, and excess grains should be avoided. Treating muscle cramps with 400 IU of vitamin E three times daily is beneficial, as is calcium, vitamins B1 and B3, potassium, vitamin C, silicon, niacinamide, chlorophyll, and folic acid (500 mcg taken three times daily).

Herbal self-care options not related to diet include using the aromatherapeutic herbs rosemary, lavender, marjoram, chamomile, and clary sage to soothe muscle tension. Drinking tea made from cramp bark, or taking a tincture of ½ teaspoon of cramp bark four times a day is beneficial. Temporary relief can be found in applying a mixture of equal parts tincture of lobelia and cramp bark to the sore muscle(s). Topical application of evening primrose, flaxseed oil, vitamin A, and zinc oxide applied three times daily over the course of a few days will also bring relief.

Hydrotherapy, or using water to alleviate pain, is soothing for sore muscles. Therefore, a simple hot pack, or an immersion or sitz bath taken for 20 to 60 minutes should provide temporary relief.

If you choose to seek professional care for muscle cramps, treatment options include reflexology, chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, magnetic field therapy, osteopathic medicine, and orthomolecular medicine.

Keep in mind that muscle cramps can be painful and irritating, but they are not deadly.