Muscle Cramps 101

Ever been waken up in the middle of the night with the leg stuck in a position where it felt like the muscle wouldn’t relax? Or, have you ever been in the middle of an exercise and the muscle goes into a “Charlie horse”? This involuntary muscle contraction is a cramp. For those who have unfortunately had a muscle cramp know how painful of an experience it can be. Many people have heard some of the advice to help alleviate cramping such as drink water or eat a banana. There is some validity to some of these wives tales. Here is the science behind these wives tales.

Eating a Banana

To understand have bananas are able to help alleviate muscle cramps, it is important to mention how muscles contract. Many people are aware that bananas are a good source of potassium. This is important because the muscles work on a sodium and potassium balance, through a process called the sodium potassium pump. Simply stated, sodium ions are found outside of the muscle cell and potassium ions are inside a muscle cell. During a muscle contraction, sodium ions move inside a muscle cell and potassium ions move out of a cell. When this balance is thrown off, a muscle can not actively contract and relax. This is why eating a banana can restore the balance between sodium and potassium. Eating a banana can act as a good source of potassium and restore potassium ions back into the cell.

Drinking Water

Dehydration can also lead to cramping.  Sodium and water are closely bound.   In layman’s terms, where ever sodium goes water will follow. Through long periods of exercise or  strenuous levels of physical exertion, the likelihood of dehydration or even sodium depletion becomes more prevalent.  By drinking water, the muscle cell stays hydrated and the sodium potassium pump, that was aforementioned, is maintained.  This is also why sports drinks or even pickle juice is helpful with preventing cramping during exercise. The additional sodium assist  the muscle.

Stretching the affected muscle 

A muscle cramp is involuntary muscle contraction. The muscles will  tighten up during cramping.  To decrease the tightness in the muscle, stretching can be a useful tool.  Stretching will allow the muscle to lengthen and not stay in the contracted position.