Health Check

What causes muscle cramps?

Cramps are annoying but also fairly common. Read on for tips on how to prevent and treat them.

Written by Bonnie Palmer
health care concept. woman massaging her painful foot, red hi-lighted on pain area

Have you ever woken suddenly in the night to a painful muscle cramp? Muscle cramps can occur at any time of day, but the night time ones are by far the most annoying!

Experts explain: watch Medibank’s Chief Medical Officer explain what causes muscle cramps and how to prevent them

What causes muscle cramps?

Muscle cramps occur when muscles spasm uncontrollably. Any muscle can be affected, but cramps in the calf and foot muscles are very common.

While the exact cause of muscle cramps is unknown, there are a few factors that can increase your risk. These include:

  • Dehydration
  • Being unfit
  • A poor diet
  • Muscle injury or fatigue
  • Physical overexertion.

You could also be low in some electrolytes and minerals that help your muscles and nerves function such as potassium, sodium and magnesium. If you want to top up, good sources of potassium include bananas and avocados, leafy greens like kale and spinach and dairy products including milk and yoghurt. Leafy greens are also a great source of magnesium, along with lentils, chickpeas and nuts.

Can you prevent cramps?

There are a few simple things you can do to prevent cramps. Warming up and cooling down before and after exercising should help, as should drinking plenty of water and eating a balanced diet. Supportive footwear can also assist - a good reason to swap your heels for flats.

If a cramp does come on, try massaging the affected area, stretching or applying an ice pack.

When to seek help

More often than not, cramps are harmless. However, they could be pointing to a more serious underlying medical disorder. If you find you’re cramping regularly, or the pain is severe, it’s best to book in a visit with your GP.

Learn more about what causes some other common health conditions like warts, low-blood pressure and dandruff.

Written by Bonnie Palmer

My passions in life are writing, raising awareness for cancer research, exercising, spending time with my amazing friends and drinking good wine (the last two usually go together).

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