Muscle spasms, also referred to as muscle cramps, are painful contractions and tightening of the muscles. They are common, involuntary, and unpredictable. Temperature drops and cold weather can cause the muscles and joints to contract and tighten, leading to spasms and pain. Chiropractic, physical therapy massage, exercises, stretching, and an anti-inflammatory diet can bring relief and help strengthen the muscles to prevent future episodes.
Spasms are common and can affect any of the muscles. They can involve part of a muscle, all of a muscle, or several muscles in a group. Spasms occur when the muscle/s involuntary and forcibly contract uncontrollably and are unable to relax. The most common sites for muscle spasms include:
How Cold Affects the Muscles
As the weather gets colder, this causes the muscles in the body lose heat, causing them to contract. As a result, the muscles and joints become tighter and stiffer, decreasing mobility and range of motion. This forces the muscles to work harder than usual to compensate. This can increase the fatigue of the muscles, leading to more prolonged bouts of pain and discomfort after physical activity, movement, exercise, etc.
Symptoms and Causes
A cramp can last a few seconds or last up to 15 minutes. During a muscle spasm, the following may be experienced:
- Twitching in the muscle.
- Pain in the muscle.
- Hardness and/or stiffness.
- The muscles appear physically distorted.
Because the muscles have to work harder, cold weather can increase muscle spasms. One of the most common causes of muscle spasms is overuse and fatigue. However, exact causes vary from person to person. Some experts believe that one or more of the following contribute to the spasms/cramps, and they include:
- Not stretching the body regularly.
- Muscle fatigue.
- Restricted blood circulation.
- Involuntary nerve discharge/s.
- Exercising in the heat.
- Exhaustion of salts and minerals:
Possible causes for leg cramps at night or nocturnal leg cramps specifically include:
- Sitting for too long without moving around to keep circulation healthy.
- Sitting with unhealthy posture.
- Overusing the muscles.
- Standing or working on hard floors.
Dealing With The Cold
One way to deal with the cold is to warm up before physical activity. Taking a few minutes to get the heart rate up can increase the blood flow and flexibility of the muscles. This will ensure the muscles are functioning correctly and avoid the need to work harder to stop spasms. When a cramp strikes, there are a few steps to try to alleviate the spasm:
- Stretching the affected area.
- Massaging the affected area manually with a massage roller and percussive massager.
- Stand up.
- Move around.
- Apply heat or ice.
- A warm bath and shower with a massage setting if possible.
- Ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
- Vitamin B12 complex can help prevent cramps.
Getting Back To Fitness
Get back into regular exercising with a few tips for making the transition as smooth as possible.
- Don’t try to jump back into exercise in attempting to crush out a challenging workout.
- Commit to week-long light workouts that integrate stretching pre- and post-exercise.
- Over-exerting the body increases the risk of injuries, motivation loss, and prolonged exhaustion.
Create a Workout Schedule That Works For You
- Routines and habits can help stay on track.
- Build a sustainable exercise routine to stay focused and committed.
- Find times that work.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Muscle Cramp. (orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00200) Accessed 3/1/2021.
American Association of Osteopathy. Muscle Cramp—A Common Pain. (www.osteopathic.org/osteopathic-health/about-your-health/health-conditions-library/general-health/Pages/muscle-cramp.aspx) Accessed 3/1/2021.
Herzberg J. Stevermer J. Treatments for Nocturnal Leg Cramps. (www.aafp.org/afp/2017/1001/od3.pdf) Am Fam Physician 2017;96(7):468-469. Accessed 3/1/2021.
Young G. Leg Cramps. (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4429847/) BMJ Clin Evid 2015; May 13;1113. Accessed 3/1/2021.
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The information herein on "Cold Weather Muscle Spasms, Cramps" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, or licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
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