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Cramps are spasms that occur in muscular systems. There are many different situations that can cause these painful sensations throughout the body, from overexertion to dehydration. Generally, the condition is easily treatable at home, but people who experience chronic or constant muscle cramps may want to consider consulting a health care professional for advice and help.
A cramp generally occurs when a muscle is unable to fully relax, causing a spasm that feels like a sharp pain throughout the area. Pain level can be quite mild, often described as a twinge, or extremely painful and long-lasting. The duration of pain can alter depending on the severity of the severity of the condition; it can last for just seconds or may stretch on for several minutes, and can easily recur if not properly treated.
One common cause of cramps is overexertion. Repetitive motion, such as lifting weight or long runs, can cause pain if the muscles are not fully stretched afterward. Cramping from overexertion can occur during an activity or even several hours later, as the muscles attempt to fully relax from strenuous activity. Some people experience more pain when exercising is done in a hot environment, usually due to dehydration and increased muscle fatigue.
Menstrual cramps affect women just prior to or during menstruation, and generally manifest as a dull ache throughout the abdomen or a sharp pain in the pelvic area. This type is caused by hormonal shifts that occur at the beginning of menstruation as well as contractions of the uterus that push out menstrual fluids. Some women experience little or no pain, while others suffer severe pain that can leave them temporarily debilitated. Certain birth control methods, such as an intrauterine device (IUD) can increase the severity of menstrual cramps.
Many instances of cramping are due to lack of proper electrolytes in the body. If the body becomes dehydrated, cells throughout muscle systems do not receive adequate amounts of electrolytes, such as sodium and magnesium. The lack of these vital salts in the body can lead the muscle to misfire and spasm, resulting in pain throughout the body. For this reason, many health experts recommend increasing water intake to help prevent this.
Some people experience cramping during periods of inactivity, such as while sleeping. These nocturnal pains often affect the feet, ankles, and calves and may contribute to sleeplessness and insomnia. A regular exercise routine, plenty of water, and daily stretching can help reduce the risk of nocturnal cramping.