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Last updated April 19, 2017, originally published March 16, 2013
By A. Turner, Contributing Columnist

There are over 650 skeletal muscles in the human body , and all of
them have the delightful ability to contract, cramp, or spasm without
our say-so. Muscle spasms occur frequently in our lower backs, in our
necks and in our calves. While these spasms may surprise us, and
sometimes last for a long, painful couple of minutes, it is a common
experience that need not always cause alarm.  The American Academy
of Orthopedic Surgeons assures us that almost everyone will
experience a muscle cramp in their lifetime and they could occur
anywhere.  Among the physically active, cramps and spasms are most
likely to happen in the calf and thigh muscles,  and are particularly
common in endurance athletes and the elderly who work out.   

If you’re not a marathoner and not yet retired, you are not off the
hook: cramps could occur while walking, playing golf, or even when
you sleep (ever woken up in the middle of the night with an agonizing
pain in your calf, so cutely called a “Charley Horse”?).  

While cramps and spasms may be over and done with in a matter of
minutes, they can render the area unusable for that period of time, or
indicate a more serious condition.  What are muscle cramps and
spasms, and what can we do about them? Are there any natural
remedies to relieve muscle spasms?

What Causes Muscle Spasms?

Muscle cramps, spasms, and contractions happen because nerves have
malfunctioned, the muscles are overused, or the muscles are not
getting the minerals or blood that they need.   This can occur because
of dehydration during long periods of exercise or labor , and the
depletion of muscles’ oxygen supply, which builds up waste within the
muscles and results in spasm.  Spasms could also indicate other,
oftentimes more serious, medical conditions (see below for some rare
conditions that can lead to muscle spasms).  

Muscle spasms can occur in any muscles of your body, in your arms,
legs, stomach end even in the most important muscle of your body,
your heart.

What Can We Do About Muscle Spasms?

If your muscles cramp because you are an endurance athlete,
oftentimes stretching and staying hydrated can reduce your number of
cramps and spasms.  If your cramps do not seem to be related to
exercise, and happen frequently or are severe, they may be a warning
sign for another condition .  

Check out the list below of scientifically tested causes of, and
treatments for, muscle spasms.

Attention All Ultra-Runners with Muscle Spasms: Chill Before a Race

You’ve trained every day, you’ve eaten the right foods, you’ve gotten
enough sleep, but still your muscles cramp up on race day.  What’s
going on?  Research from South Africa suggests that even an ultra-
runner needs to take it easy from time to time – muscle spasms may be
a sign that you need to give your body a break (at least a small one).

In 2011, a team of scientists in South Africa led by Dr. Martin P.
Schwellnus with the Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports
Medicine at the University of Cape Town  identified the risk factors
associated with the development of Exercise Associated Muscle
Cramping (EAMC) in 49 runners training for a 56 km race.  20 of these
athletes reported muscle cramping during or within six hours of the
events, and 29 reported no cramping.  

Data showed that runners who experienced cramping reported “on
average longer training sessions during the 3 days before the race.”  
Runners with cramping also showed a “faster running pace at the early
stage of a race.”

If you have a big race coming up and are worried about muscle spasms
or cramps, try treating yourself to a shorter course for the days before
the big day.  If you’re running an ultra-marathon in the first place, you’
ve certainly earned a few miles off.

Muscle Spasms Caused by Mangoes

For many of us in the U.S., mangoes are a exceptional, seasonal treat.  
While the rarity of the mango may tempt us to indulge when we get a
chance, research from Japan suggests that even one mango a day
could cause muscle spasms.

Mangoes are rich in potassium. Eating too much potassium can cause
muscle spasms. In 2012, Kazuo Abe with the Clinical Research Center
at Osaka Health Science University in Japan,  encountered a 79 year old
woman who suffered from “everyday” muscle cramps, and had a
potassium level of 5.5 mmol per liter (compared to a normal level that
ranges from 3.5 to 5.0).  Upon investigation, she reported that she ate
“a mango every night for a month before for good sleep.”  The team
agreed on a “diagnosis of muscle cramps due to hyperpotassium.”  
When the woman stopped eating mango fruits she “showed normal
potassium level” and has “not experienced muscle cramps since then.”

While eating a mango a day does not always produce muscle spasms or
cramping, if you get those hard lumps in your calves more than usual,
and it happens to be mango season, you might want to keep your
consumption in check.  

Then again, some low hanging fruits are almost worth the spasms.

The Surfer’s Curse: Back Spasms.

Some of us suffer from back pain or spasms because of good ‘ole age:
others out there feel the pain in earlier years from extreme sports, such
as surfing.  Indeed, scientists in Michigan find that “back spasms are
reported to be the most frequent cause of impairment among surfers.”  
This kind of pain can be a real bummer for surfers around the world.

In 2010, Drs. Roger Hammer and Peter Loubert with the College of
Health Professions at Central Michigan University  tested a real life
surfer without the real life water – the athlete was observed making
her moves on a “dry board” in a laboratory.  The researchers found
that the back problems arise from the so called “popup” move that
surfers make when jumping from their stomach paddling position up to
their feet: while this move may look slick, its “high acceleration rate” is
a “likely factor that explains the risk for low back pain and injury
associated with it” because of “correspondingly high stresses” on the
back muscles.  

What’s a surfer dude or dudette to do?  The research team
recommends that instead of the “prone popup,” surfers worried about
back spasms and pain try the “knee pop-up,” by using the knee to help
the athlete stand in time to catch the big one.  While this move may not
look as slick as the original popup, the knee popup could help “alleviate
stress in the lumbar spine during surfing.”  If you want to keep
catching the waves, you might have to tweak your technique.

Allergy Medication and Muscle Spasms: To Sneeze or to Cramp?

Those of us who try to hear the fast-paced, mumbled dialogue at the
end of a commercial for medication know that most medications have
side effects.  Sometimes, these side effects open up a whole new can of
conditions that seem entirely unrelated to the previous concern: what,
for example, could sneezing and wheezing have to do with muscle
cramps?  Research from Oregon finds that some allergy medication may
stop the sneezing only at the price of muscle spasms.

In 2010, a team of specialists including Robert Hendrickson with
Emergency Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in
Portland,  studied an herbal medication from the plant Xanthium
sibiricum called Cang Er Zi Wan (or CEZW) that has been used to treat
allergies and other respiratory problems.  The team encountered a
seventeen year old patient who “developed intermittent muscular
spasms” after her second dose of CEZW pills that were prescribed for
chronic allergies.  The patient’s spasms occurred in the muscles of the
face, neck, and upper extremities, which “slowly decreased” four days
after discontinuing CEZW.

If you take medication for allergies, particularly if you take CEZW or
another product with Xanthium sibiricum, and you notice muscle
spasms around the neck and face (which, let’s face it, would be hard to
miss), you may want to consider asking your physician for alternative


One such alternative remedy for seasonal allergies is Vitamin C. Studies
have found that
Vitamin C suppresses the release of histamine, by as
much as 40%. ]

Pickle Juice for Muscle Spasms.

Continue reading  page 1    page 2

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