Muscle Cramps and Calcium

by Laura Niedziocha

About Laura Niedziocha

Laura Niedziocha began her writing career in 2007. She has contributed material to the Stoneking Physical Therapy and Wellness Center in Lambertville, N.J., and her work has appeared in various online publications. Niedziocha graduated from Temple University with a Bachelor of Science in exercise science. She also has her Associate of Arts in communications from the Community College of Philadelphia.

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The role of calcium inside your body extends far beyond bone health. Calcium plays a substantial role in muscular contractions. A skeletal muscle contraction occurs when tiny filaments inside your muscle fibers attach to one another and slide, causing your muscle to shorten. Calcium allows the attachment. Without calcium, your muscles can't properly function, according to the book "Anatomy and Physiology" by Kenneth S. Saladin.

Symptoms

A muscle cramp might start as a feeling of hardness in your muscle. It may progress to pain and uncontrollable movements of that muscle or group of muscles. According to the National Institutes of Health, a muscle cramp, or spasm as some call them, is not uncommon. Muscle cramps can happen whether you're exercising or relaxing.

Causes

The main cause of a muscle cramp is from a mineral deficiency, most commonly a deficiency of calcium or potassium. A calcium deficiency can be caused by several things, such as inadequate dietary calcium intake. Recommended calcium intakes for adults younger than 50 are 1,000mg per day and 1,200mg per day for adults older than 50. Overuse of a muscle from extreme activity is another cause. Prolonged exercise without adequate nutritional recovery can deplete your body of essential nutrients, including calcium, MedlinePlus says.

Calcium and Muscle Fatigue

Because calcium plays such an essential role in a muscular contraction, it makes sense that calcium can cause muscle fatigue -- which can lead to muscle cramps. The main mechanism of this has to do with the release and uptake of calcium in your muscle cells. When your brain signals a muscular contraction, the stored calcium inside your muscle cells is released in order to facilitate tiny filaments within the muscle fiber. After the contraction is over and calcium is no longer needed, it travels back to its storage area. If there's an interference with the journey of calcium back to these storage areas, you may experience a prolonged muscle contraction that leads to a cramp, according to the book "Exercise Physiology" by George A. Brooks, Thomas D. Fahey and Kenneth M. Baldwin.

The Cure for the Common Cramp

If you suffer from cramps often, consider increasing your dietary intake of calcium. Carefully monitoring your calcium intake and supplementing, if necessary, can help reduce muscle cramps. Consult your doctor before taking any supplements, even calcium. For the short term, the National Institutes of Health suggests other ways to fight muscle cramps. When a muscle cramp starts, stop your activity and immediately stretch the muscle that's cramping. Massage, ice, heat and an over-the-counter pain reliever can also help. Stay hydrated, because muscle cramps may be a sign of dehydration. If you experience muscle cramps frequently, contact your doctor.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.