Here in Utah, summers can be brutal. Going outside in triple digit heat drains energy, makes you all sweaty, and may cause your muscles to cramp. You expect muscle cramps after sitting in one position for too long or after working a muscle too hard – but what is it about summer that causes muscle cramping?
Here’s what you need to know about muscle cramping in the summer, what you can do to help it, and what you can do in order to prevent it. Let’s get into it.
Why Do Muscles Cramp In The Heat?
There’s actually a term for this: heat cramps.
Basically, heat cramps are muscle spasms that occur when you’re dehydrated and don’t have enough electrolytes in your system. They can happen when it’s hot out, when you’re doing strenuous activities, and other reasons.
When you sweat, your body loses moisture and salt – both necessities for proper functionality. The low salt levels in your body cause your muscles to start cramping.
Who Is Vulnerable To Muscle Cramping In The Summer?
The truth is that anyone can get heat cramps without enough hydration or shelter, however some people are more vulnerable to them than others. Some of the more at-risk groups include:
- Older adults
- People who sweat a lot during strenuous activities
- People who work in hot environments, such as farmers, athletes, construction workers, and the like
What Are Symptoms Of Heat Cramps?
Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms. They’re usually more intense than the type of cramping you can experience at night.
People most commonly experience cramping in their:
However, people may suffer from heat cramps in any muscle group involved in exercise.
Since heat cramps are one of the signs of heat exhaustion, you may also experience other symptoms of heat exhaustion with them, such as:
- Heavy sweating
Should You Be Concerned About Heat Cramps?
Heap cramps are one of the first symptoms of heat illnesses. While heat cramps in and of themselves don’t mean you’ll suffer more severe heat illness, they are warning bells your body is frantically ringing that you should pay heed to.
In order to prevent heat cramps from escalating, you’ll need to take proper measures to take care of yourself while experiencing them. We’ll get more into what you can do if you experience heat cramps below, as well as how you can prevent them from occurring in the first place.
How Can You Help Heat Cramps?
If you’re experiencing heat cramps, you’ll want to stop what you’re doing and seek shelter to sit down, preferably air-conditioned. This is so that your body can cool down. You’ll also want to eat something with carbohydrates or drink something with electrolytes in it, like a snack or a sports drink. You can gently massage and stretch the cramping muscles.
You don’t want to return to any strenuous activity for an hour or so after the cramps subside. If you do, make sure that you’re taking plenty of breaks and hydrating and snacking frequently.
Once you stop the activity that you were doing and rest, your cramps should begin to subside within half an hour to an hour. They may come and go. Typically, heat cramps only last a few seconds or up to 15 minutes, but can vary depending on how quickly you seek shade and electrolytes, your physical condition, and your age.
If your heat cramps are severe or frequent; snacks, drinks, and rest aren’t helping; or they don’t subside, talk to a healthcare provider.
If you also experience confusion, slurred speech, heavy sweating or hot, dry skin, high body temperature, seizures, or loss of consciousness, go to the emergency room.
How Can You Prevent Heat Cramps?
There’s plenty that you can do in order to save yourself the pain of muscle cramping in the summer. Some effective prevention strategies include:
- Staying hydrated, especially if you are doing strenuous activities
- Ensuring that you’re consuming enough electrolytes, especially prior to going outside in the heat. Sports drinks and juices are great for this.
- Reducing your consumption of dehydrating substances, such as caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
- Avoiding outdoor strenuous activity during the hottest times of the day. Many people assume that the heat of the day is at noon, however, it’s typically closer to 3 or 4pm. UV rays are at their harshest between 10am and 4pm. So, if you want to garden or go on a run or what have you, stick to the early morning or late afternoon/evening, when it’s cooler.
- If you are going to be out in the heat, wear light, loose clothing, bring drinks with electrolytes, and plan on frequent breaks to rest and hydrate. You’ll also want to wear sunscreen, as sunburn can dehydrate you.
- Ensuring that you have some sort of air conditioning.
Heat cramps are painful, but typically do not last long with proper care measures. They indicate that you are overheated and dehydrated. Once you’ve cooled off and replenished your electrolytes, you should feel better.