They only thing worse than being really, really hot is suffering from an illness on top of it. Whether it comes from heat exhaustion or headaches brought on by the heat, it can be miserable. But one of the more annoying and painful things that heat can bring on is heat cramps. Heat cramps are painful and can ruin your day pretty fast. But, what triggers the heat cramp? What are heat cramp causes? What are heat cramp symptoms? In this article, we’ll take a look heat cramps from top to bottom, including causes, symptoms, and treatments. By the time we are done, you will know all of the basics about heat cramps.
What Are the Causes of Heat Cramps?
If you’ve had a heat cramp, one of the things you probably want to know is what causes them. Heat is an obvious factor, but what else is behind these cramps?
Heat cramps usually occur after you’ve done a physical activity in a hot space—like working out in a gym with no air conditioning on a scorching July day. Your muscles will cramp up or jerk in a rather awkward and painful way. Beyond that, there isn’t much information on what actually causes heat cramps. There’s a good chance it involves the electrolytes, especially a lack of sodium due to sweating it out of your system. Truth be told, these theories make sense, but aren’t totally confirmed. Given that we don’t know exactly what causes them beyond heat, how do we know what heat cramps are? What are the symptoms of heat cramps?
Symptoms of Heat Cramps
Heat cramps are painful. That’s pretty self-evident from the name. It involves the cramping of the muscles after activity in a hot space. But can you see it coming? Are there symptoms that can tell you if a heat cramp is heading your way? Unfortunately, the only real warning sign you get is the cramps beginning. They tend to be painful. They are involuntary and can be spastic. Thankfully, they tend to be intermittent and usually end up stopping on their own. However, if they are a reoccurring issue, you may be worried that they’re signaling an underlying condition.
Diagnosing Heat Cramps
To diagnose heat cramps, the physician or other medical professional will start by asking you about your recent medical history and what may have triggered the cramps. Questions like:
- How hot was it?
- How humid was it?
- Was there adequate air circulation?
- What activity was being performed and for how long?
- When did the cramps start? What muscles were involved?
- Was there associated sweating?
- Had the affected individual been acclimated to the hot environment?
- Was the person drinking enough water?
This may be followed by a physical exam, which can involve checking out the muscles that are cramping (this may include the doctor manually pressing down on the muscles to check for tenderness or soreness). You might also have an oral check for dry mouth, and you may be checked for sweat as well.
If you are diagnosed with heat cramps following the examination, the next step is treatment.
How to Treat Heat Cramps
So, you’ve been to the doctor, and you were diagnosed with heat cramps or you’ve figured it out on your own. What do you do now? Here’s a quick guide to ways you can treat heat cramps as they happen.
1. Stop the Activity
If you’re unlucky enough to get heat cramps while you are performing an activity or sport (like working out at the gym), you should stop that activity immediately. Continuing to work through the pain might make things worse.
2. Find a Cool Place
Relocating to a cool room or area to cool down your muscles can help your muscles to stop cramping.
3. Use a Cold Compress
A cold compress may help relax the muscles out of the cramps.
4. Replace Your Electrolytes
While the connection between a lack of electrolytes and heat cramps hasn’t been confirmed, there is some evidence to support it. And given that you will be sweating, it’s not a bad idea to replace them. This can be done by making a homemade sports drink, but if you don’t have the time, a store-bought sports drink can help.
5. Drink Plenty of Fluids
Drink lots of water, raise your fluid levels. This may help with the cramps as well as any dehydration issues you may also be suffering from. This is also a very good tip to do from the start of your activity in the heat as it may prevent the heat cramps and at the very least, it can help reduce the chances of dehydration.
6. Gently Stretch and Massage
Gently stretching and massaging the cramped muscle may help to relieve the pain of the heat cramps. Be careful to not to over stretch as you may damage the already hurt muscles.
Now the one thing you also have to keep in mind is that these cramps may reoccur. You may think it’s all over only for the cramps to return four hours later. Keep those treatments in mind because there is a good chance you will need them again. Also, note how long the cramps go on for. If the cramp lasts for more than an hour continuously, you should probably see a doctor as it might be a muscle pull or tear.
Heat Cramps Are the Worst!
Heat cramps are painful, uncomfortable, and can come back hours after they first occur. They are the worst. But if you take some care and follow some of the treatments we have outlined above, you might be able to treat the heat cramps and prevent them from happening the next time you’re working up a sweat in the heat.
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