By Rebecca Barger/Divine Caroline
You’re sleeping soundly when all of a sudden it feels like somebody is reaching in your calf and squeezing your muscle. Perhaps you’re in a bar with some girlfriends and your neck starts moving in strange, it-looks-like-you’re-a-terrible-dancer way. Or maybe you’re just minding your own business, watching television when you pelvic thrust off the couch because, out of nowhere, the same sensation happens in your thigh. Wherever it may be, when you’ve lost control of your muscle, it’s cramps.
What Causes Cramps
Whether we’re fit or flabby, old or young, male or female, cramps are just about as prevalent as a red carpet fashion faux pas. And I’m not talking about menstrual cramps; I’m talking about charley horses, nighttime leg cramps, and crick-in-the-neck pains.
Many things cause cramps: pregnancy, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, and other serious health issues. But the majority of us suffer from what are called “true cramps.” So what makes a cramp true? Technically, it’s the involuntary and sustained contraction of a muscle, most likely caused by hyperexcitability of the nerves that control the muscle. Oftentimes the muscle is contracted forcibly and won’t relax for some time, from seconds to over an hour. These are the cramps that make you have to ask—or bribe—someone to slowly massage the back of your leg.
True cramps are the most common type of muscle cramps and have various predisposing factors:
Cramps occur during or after a strenuous activity—often one your muscles might not be used to. An example might be when you’re in yoga class and cramp up so much that your Downward Dog now looks like some sort of pathetic road kill.
After sitting or lying in an awkward position for a period of time, your muscles grow tired and cramp up from being in that uncomfortable position. Translation—if you’ve just fallen asleep on an airplane you are in the cramp red zone.
Not surprisingly, these occur while sleeping.