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Everyone has gotten a muscle cramp in a hand, foot, or leg at some point, and even if they don't last very long, cramps usually range from annoying to excruciating. If you tend to cramp regularly, read on for diet and lifestyle tweaks based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and naturopathy.
The most obvious cause of a muscle cramp is plain old dehydration. If you are not drinking enough water, your cells and tissues will be less fluid and your muscles will be tight. Aim to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water each day, and add more if you're active, in a hot environment, or sweating for other reasons.
If you already drink enough water but still cramp, you may have an imbalance in minerals. Calcium and magnesium are especially important for proper muscle contraction, and while you can take a supplement containing both of these, that's not what we recommend to our patients unless they know they are very deficient. Instead, we tell them to buy SmartWater or any brand of water that has minerals in it. (They should be listed on the bottle's label - don't trust anything that simply says that's it's "natural" or "healthy".) There's no need to drink these exclusively; even a glass per day may be enough to stave off cramping.
On a similar note, you lose more than just water when you sweat, and replenishing with electrolytes like these can go a long way in replacing the ions needed by the body. As with all things in holistic health, experiment with hydration levels and different products until you find what your body likes the best, and consult with your doctor or other providers if you have pre-existing conditions that may be sensitive to mineral and electrolyte adjustments.
Chinese Diet Therapy
In TCM, muscle cramping is often a result of a deficiency in Yin or Body Fluid, both of which are easily affected by diet. Drinking enough water is still the number one priority, but you can also limit dehydrating foods and beverages and add hydrating ones. Spicy food produces Heat in the body - think of what happens to a drop of water when it falls onto a hot stove - and alcohol and caffeine (and smoking) will also dry it out. On the other hand, soggy oatmeal, juicy summer fruits and vegetables, "brothy" soups, and other foods with high water content can nourish fluids.
Sometimes muscle cramps are a simple result of overworking an otherwise healthy body part. If you did a heavy leg workout or spent a long time writing, it makes sense that your calf muscle or hand would feel tired and possibly cramp. Plan regular stretch breaks during extended periods of repetitive movement, even going as far as setting an alarm as a reminder if you know that you'll be "in the zone" and probably forget. You can find a wide variety of stretches online, or you can ask the practitioners who know your body's strengths and weaknesses for more targeted advice.
Massaging a cramp can be very helpful in the short term, but acupressure on other parts of the body may play a part in cramp prevention. Stimulate the hand for the foot, the forearm for the lower leg, or the foot for the hand, depending on where you to tend to cramp. You can also incorporate points to nourish Yin:
- KD6: just below the inner ankle
- SP6: about 3-4 inches above the inner ankle, just behind the shin bone
- LV8: inner knee
Massage around the point location until you find a sore spot, and try both legs because one side may be more tender than the other.
When it comes to muscle cramps, sometimes a little change can make a big difference. Each of these recommendations is great for overall wellness, but you might find that one makes a bigger difference than the others for your particular case. Listen to your body's responses to each new habit, and reach out to us if you think you need additional support!
Kathleen Ketola is a Licensed Acupuncturist and the owner of Beachside Community Acupuncture. She loves providing affordable acupuncture to the residents of Addison, Dallas, and Farmers Branch, Texas, and educating the general public on how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat everything from pain to infertility to stress and beyond. Click "Book Now" at the top of this page to book an appointment or feel free to contact her at (214) 417-2260.