Better Off Well


Help! My hamstring keeps cramping up...

That's what a friend texted me the other day, and asked for advice on how to make it stop. I'll share with you what I suggested, but I need to do that thing where I let you know that I am not a doctor and I don't even play one on TV. I'm an educator and a researcher with training in nutrition and wellness.

leg cramp

That said, cramping is a fairly easy diagnosis most times. It's generally caused by one or all of four things.

1. Dehydration- are you drinking enough water? Most of us tend not to at this time of year because we're already chilly, but it's important to keep drinking. Also a good idea is to include foods that contain lots of water like cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, apples, pears, and berries. Water distribution will first go to the organs in our bodies most necessary for survival, so if we don't take in enough, our muscle tissue will be left on the sidelines and that can lead to cramping. For cramps after a workout, pickle juice has been found to work wonders, as can drinking warm water with grated ginger.

Magnesium Foods

2. Magnesium deficiency- most of us have this issue. Why? Because not only is the standard American diet deficient in magnesium-bearing foods, but we tend to operate on fumes most times- dealing with one stress after another through our work and personal lives. Stress eats up the magnesium in our bodies, as does the phosphoric acid in soda. Do you drink soda? Stop doing that. Water. Drink water. Lacking the proper amount of magnesium in the body can result in cramping, which includes headaches as well. If your cramps are consistent, it's a good idea to have a comprehensive blood test done to look at important mineral levels in your body.

3. Muscle atrophy. Have you been sitting for long periods of time? Check out this little video to see how that can impact your health. Muscles begin to contract after not being used for a while, so be sure to keep moving throughout the day. Create opportunities like walking meetings, taking stairs instead of elevators, using the bathroom on another floor, and delivering messages in person instead of through email to your colleagues. Pace while you're on the phone and lunge to the photo copier.

4. Inflammation. Did you work out a muscle a little too hard? If so, you may have extended something too far, and created muscle inflammation. Icing for 15 minutes to reduce the swelling, and then applying heat for 15 minutes to encourage blood flow, can make a difference.

If the cramping persists or seems unlike anything you've experienced, see your doctor. Some cramping is a side effect of medications, but cramping can also be a sign of other medical conditions.