Dear Alice,

Lately I've been getting muscle cramps at the oddest times and in the strangest locations. Mostly in my behind or just below, but occasionally in my neck, my toes, and even my chest. I'm 37, female, and exercise regularly. I was getting night cramps in my calves, but those have pretty much disappeared since a doctor told me to drink Gatorade after I exercise. But these butt cramps are really annoying (and painful). Could it be a sign of some sort of nutritional/vitamin deficiency?

A Real Pain in the Butt

Dear A Real Pain in the Butt,

Cramping can be so frustrating, and as you said, uncomfortable. Unfortunately, no one fully understands what causes muscle cramps. Factors that contribute to cramping include dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, overexertion, and/or inadequate fitness/conditioning.

Is it possible that the sort of exercise you are doing is a cause? Think about your exercise routine and examine your patterns. Are you doing specific exercises that stretch the muscles in your buttocks? If so, how often and for how long do you participate in these exercises? Could you change your regimens to see if it's the type or amount of exercise that could be causing your muscle distress? You may also try adding stretching routines before and after you exercise.

It's interesting that your nighttime calf cramps disappeared when you introduced a sports drink as a post workout strategy. That could lend a possible explanation: perhaps you are dehydrated and/or have an electrolyte imbalance, particularly of sodium, potassium, and calcium. A low sodium eating plan, coupled with high perspiration losses or with persistent vomiting/diarrhea, can deplete your body of sodium. Potassium deficiency is not likely to be the result of sweat loss; however, the result of both a sodium and potassium deficiency can be muscle cramping. A lack of calcium has also been identified as a contributor to cramping.

Another approach might be to experiment with your eating plan — perhaps increase your salt (pretzels, olives, nuts, salami), potassium (bananas, oatmeal, potatoes), and calcium (milk, yogurt, fortified orange juice) intake to see if you notice any changes. Also try to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, especially in the hours leading up to a workout. An easy way to check hydration is to notice the color of your urine. Clear, light urine reveals a more hydrated body than dark, orange urine.

If these suggestions don't work, your condition gets worse, or it's severe enough to interfere with your daily life, it's probably time to consult your health care provider.

Here's to putting your booty pains "behind" you!


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