Why are muscle spasms and pain so prevalent today when hundreds of hands-on therapies, over-the-counter medications and do-it-yourself techniques for pain reduction are available almost any time of day? The reason is not that the pills, pain patches and therapies don’t work. Rather, the answer can most likely be found in your habits — known or unknown. The little things in your life, when combined day after day, can cause chronic muscle pain. Change those little things, and you can get big pain relief.
Muscles cramp, spasm and become painful for a number of reasons. Most of the more serious reasons, like serious medical illness and traumatic injury, are less common and certainly need proper diagnosis and treatment. For many people suffering with chronic muscle pain, inflammation, cramps and spasms, the reasons are less serious. However, they are nonetheless vital to address in order to stop the pain-and-inflammation cycle and reduce the frequency, severity and duration of attacks.
Essential things to do and keep in mind to help prevent muscle pain include:
1. Stay hydrated with plenty of pure water
Water is one of the three essential things needed for life. (The others are oxygen and sunlight.) Water is so vital to life that life would not exist without it. While the human body is meant to be about 70 percent water, most people are chronically dehydrated. It is true that many people drink fluids throughout their day, yet they remain dehydrated. This happens when one consumes liquids that are diuretics.
Diuretics are substances that cause the body to excrete water. These include coffee, black tea, sodas and alcoholic beverages (particularly beer). When too many of these beverages are consumed, the body expels them quickly via urine and sweat. However, the body needs to retain enough purified fluids to maintain proper organ function, to remove toxins from the blood and to keep the skin moist. When water is low, toxins are not as easily processed or removed from the body and can begin recycling in the blood. This can cause pain, spasms and inflammation in the muscles.
Drinking eight to 10 glasses of pure or filtered water per day should bring you back to healthy levels within a few days. Some studies suggest people are habitually 2 quarts of water low. Others demonstrate that as long as your urine is clear, then your water levels are good. Start with counting how many glasses of water you consume, then check your urine. You will feel the difference and discover the levels you need.
2. Maintain your magnesium levels
Magnesium is one of the essential minerals in the body that, when left unchecked, can lead to muscle spasms, cramping, pain and twitching. Magnesium helps all your organ systems function properly. Low levels of magnesium are a known cause of muscle pain. Most people need 300 mg to 400 mg of magnesium daily to help maintain proper functioning of the body. If supplementation is not your thing, then eating plenty of foods high in magnesium can do wonders. These include green leafy vegetables, whole grains and bran, soy beans, and pumpkin.
Here’s the scoop: Even if you get enough magnesium through diet or supplementation, your levels can still be decreased by internal causes. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), other gastrointestinal (GI) issues, diabetes, kidney disease or pancreatitis can be the cause of your decreased magnesium levels.
3. Maintain your potassium levels
Like magnesium, potassium is essential to body function. When the body’s magnesium levels are low, they can negatively impact potassium levels. When potassium levels drop below 3.7 mEq/L, the body has what is known as hypokalemia, which causes one to become weak and feel fatigued and causes muscles to twitch and cramp. This is because potassium is necessary for nerve signals, muscle contractions and fluid balance.
Potassium is best ingested in natural food forms. It is found in fruits (most notably apricots, bananas, raisins and figs), wheat bran, wheat germ, dried fruits, mixed seeds, beans and vegetables. Most common cereals and breads are fortified with this mineral. If you think low potassium may be a cause of your muscle pain and ailments, contact your local healthcare provider for the recommended blood screening.
4. Exercise and stretch every day
Exercise is another simple thing that you can do every day to become healthier and prevent needless pain and inflammation. I know it is difficult to think about exercising when you are in pain. However, the main purpose of exercising for pain relief is to bolster blood flow. Even simple walking will help reduce your levels of muscle imbalances.
Walking for 30 minutes at an even pace, engaging in a simple stretching routine or participating in a yoga class will all help align the spine, keep the muscles supple and engender blood flow. When the blood is flowing well, a fresh supply of oxygen and nutrients move in the body, helping reduce pain and inflammation, repair the effects of stress and strain, and move toxins out of the body. Think of muscle spasms as stagnations of blood trapped in the tissue and causing pain.
5. Reduce stress with mind-body techniques
Do you rub your neck or low back constantly while at work or around certain people or events? This is stress making itself felt. Stress is a necessary part of life and of our survival. However, unhealthy stress can lead to excessive worry, anxiety, insomnia, improper breathing, muscle spasms and pain. While it is easy to suggest that you evaluate your life and remove all things and people that cause too much stress, this is not easily (or practically) done.
The good news is that there are quite a few simple mind-body techniques that can help reduce the effects and severity of stress. These include methods like biofeedback, mindful meditation, yoga, qigong, visualizations and hypnotherapy. Looking into some of these and putting them into daily practice will go a long way to reducing the negative effects of stress on the body.
6. Get a good night’s sleep
Sleeping well is another essential element the body needs in order to repair and rebuild. Even with a diet rich in magnesium and potassium, plenty of water and exercise, and stress-reduction techniques, lack of ample deep sleep keeps the body from fully repairing itself. Sleeping at least seven hours in a position that will not cause you pain is necessary.
The secret to pain-free deep sleep is to set a standard sleep- and wake-time cycle. Not reading or drinking before bedtime also helps reduce insomnia and waking to urinate during the night. Sleeping on your back or on your side with a pillow between the knees will keep the spine in a supported position to decrease chances of pinched nerves or muscle spasms from poor sleep posture. The key is to get into the habit of regular sleep that allows you to wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day — not stiff, tired and anxious.
You can reduce muscle spasms and pain
While some of the issues that can cause us to experience acute and chronic muscle pain and inflammation are beyond our control, many of them are completely within our power to change. If you experience daily muscle spasms or discomfort, the best thing you can do to help yourself is to get into a pattern of caring for yourself. In other words, be nice to yourself by not doing the things that can cause you more pain or discomfort and by doing the simple things that will help reduce and prevent a painful body. The six things mentioned in this article are keys to less pain. Incorporating them into your daily life will help in many ways.