Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.
Houston’s summer heat is ramping up, and soon we’ll be facing those upper-80’s, low-90’s temps. Love it or hate it, the Houston heat presents some serious problems for active people, including dehydration and heat illness and heatstroke.
Today, I’d like to discuss a common health issue that affects many people in Houston (not just athletes and active people, either).
The problem is muscle cramps.
What is a muscle cramp?
A muscle cramp is the sudden, involuntary contraction of a muscle or muscle group. This contraction may render you unable to move the muscle or muscle group. While typically harmless, cramping can cause severe pain in some situations.
What causes muscle cramps?
Muscle cramps may occur during hot weather if you become dehydrated, strain a muscle or simply overexert yourself. Sometimes muscle cramps are caused by other health issues such as peripheral artery disease, nerve compression or the use of diuretics, which can deplete the body’s minerals. If you experience multiple, frequent or severe muscle cramps, talk to your primary care doctor, as it’s possible something besides dehydration and heat are causing the cramps.
How do I know if I have a muscle cramp?
Muscle cramps are most common in the legs (especially the calf muscles). Symptoms may include: sudden, sharp pain and a feeling or appearance of hard tissue beneath the skin.
What can I do for muscle cramps?
A heating pad may help relieve muscle cramps. Additionally, you can try stretching the cramped muscle or gently massaging it to work out the knots. If you have a cramp in your calf muscle, for example, you can ease it into a stretch by putting your weight on that leg and slightly bending your knee with your weight shifting forward.
Other things you can do for muscle cramps include:
- Taking a warm shower or bath
- Using a cold pack to relieve muscle pain and soreness
- Take an over-the-counter NSAID (such as ibuprofen) to ease pain and reduce swelling.
- Drink a sports beverage, which can help rehydrate you, while also providing minerals that may be in short supply in your body.
In the event that a muscle cramp does not go away with at-home care, see a doctor near you.
Schedule With a Houston Sports Medicine Doctor
Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.