Muscle cramps are caused by overuse of a muscle, dehydration, stress or fatigue. But if calves cramp painfully when you’re trying to sleep, or a muscle often locks up for no apparent reason, the root cause is a faulty chemical signal from the nervous system that “tells” the muscle to contract. Try these natural home remedies to relieve your muscle pain.
What you can do for muscle cramps
• Place an electric heating pad or a hot washcloth on the misbehaving muscle to relax the cramp and increase blood flow to the affected tissue. Set the pad on low, apply for 20 minutes, then remove it for at least 20 minutes before reapplying.
• Take a long, warm shower, or soak in the bath. For added relief, pour in a half-cup of Epsom salt. The magnesium in Epsom salt promotes muscle relaxation.
• Find the epicenter of the muscle cramp. Press into this spot with your thumb, the heel of your hand or a loosely clenched fist. Hold the pressure for 10 seconds, then press again. You’re doing it right if you feel some discomfort, but not excruciating pain. After a number of repetitions, the pain from the cramp should start to diminish.
• Low levels of minerals known as electrolytes—which include potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium—can contribute to muscle cramps. You probably don’t need any more sodium in your diet, but you may need more of the others. Good food sources of magnesium are whole-grain breads and cereals, nuts and beans. You can get potassium from most fruits and vegetables, especially bananas, oranges and cantaloupes. Dairy foods supply calcium.
• If you tend to get muscle cramps during exercise, drink at least 2 cups of water two hours before each workout, then stop and drink 4 to 8 ounces every 15 minutes during exercise sessions. If you’re sweating a lot, consider a sports drink, such as Gatorade, that replaces lost sodium and other electrolytes.
• To prevent nighttime calf cramps, try not to sleep with your toes pointed. And don’t tuck in your sheets too tightly—this tends to bend your toes downward, activating cramps.
A natural boost for treatment of muscle cramps
• Mix 1 part wintergreen oil with 4 parts vegetable oil, and massage it into the muscle cramp. Wintergreen contains methyl salicylate, which relieves pain and stimulates blood flow. You can use this mixture several times a day, but not with a heating pad—you could burn your skin.
• Take vitamin E to prevent nocturnal leg cramps. Studies suggest that taking vitamin E improves blood flow through the arteries.
• Muscle cramps are often caused by dehydration, so if you’re getting frequent cramps, drink more water.
From 1,801 Home Remedies (Reader’s Digest)